Barcelona face tough run, as Real Madrid mount challenge


Defending La Liga champions are facing a tough run of fixtures in domestic and European action, just as bitter rivals Real Madrid are preparing a late bid for the league title.

Ernesto Valverde’s side have drawn their last two league games, against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao, dropping four key points, in the same fortnight that Santiago Solari’s team have beaten Alaves and Atletico Madrid.

That has nudged Los Blancos ahead of their city rivals as the Catalan side’s main challengers, and the current leaders will be looking over their shoulder.

In the next 18 days, Barcelona face a mammoth five games, in La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League action – in what could be a season-defining run of fixtures.

This weekend they welcome Real Valladolid to the Nou Camp, in theoretically the easiest of the lot, but then it is trips to Lyon and Sevilla in the Champions League and La Liga, followed by two visits to the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa and the league.

Valverde will have to balance his squad for this demanding period, with injury concerns over Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti and Arthur.

Arthur is ruled out until the end of the month, but the Brazilian could potentially be back for one of the games in Madrid.

Umtiti is back in first team training after an extended lay off with a troublesome knee injury, but despite edging back towards full fitness, he is lacking in match practice and dropping him back into such a serious run of games is a risk.

However with Thomas Vermaelen and Jeison Murillo the only experienced back up to Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, Valverde will be looking at the French international’s rehabilitation.

The biggest concern is over Messi, with the Barcelona skipper struggling with a thigh injury.

He suffered the injury during the draw with Valencia, but played on, potentially causing more damage.

Valverde opted to leave him on the bench for the Copa del Rey draw with Real Madrid, emerging as a second half substitute, before playing a full 90 minutes at San Mames last weekend.

He has undergone further treatment this week, but there is a nagging concern he needs a rest to fully recover, to counteract a breakdown later in the season.

However with the games coming thick and fast, Valverde may not have that luxury.

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