It was a potentially decisive weekend in the LaLiga title race as Barcelona opened up an eight-point gap on Real Madrid. Here’s what we made of it all.
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“I don’t see us as favourites, I see us as candidates,” Xavi said after his Barça side had comfortably beaten Sevilla to strengthen their grip on top spot in Spain.
“They [Real Madrid] are still the favourites because they are the reigning La Liga and Champions League champions.”
This is a ploy used by managers in Xavi’s position every season.
Call it mind games, call it taking the pressure off the team, call it what you want but the 43-year-old is trying to keep his side’s feet on the ground.
The issue is: Barcelona are now favourites to win the title after taking a huge step this weekend.
Real Madrid, without the injured Karim Benzema and suffering from the loss of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the warm-up, went to Mallorca and lost 1-0 in the early kick-off on Sunday.
Nacho’s 13th-minute own-goal shook Carlo Ancelotti’s side and from then on they struggled to break down Javier Aguirre’s men, resorting to hopeful long-range efforts which ended up in the stands.
Marco Asensio was given a golden opportunity to level from the penalty spot in the second half but spurned his chance, and from then on the writing was on the wall for the champions.
Attention turned to the Camp Nou as pressure built on the league leaders. Real Madrid had played Barcelona a through ball, all it needed doing was for it to be slotted home.
The Blaugrana have rose to the occasion domestically regularly this season and although it took until midway through the second period before Jordi Alba broke the deadlock, they didn’t blink again.
Sevilla turned up with a low-block attempting to frustrate the hosts but there is an inevitability about Barcelona at the moment – the fear factor is back.
Gavi toasted his new deal with the second before Raphinha hit a beauty 12 minutes from time to send the home fans home in celebratory mood, they knew this was an opportunity that had to be taken and their team produced the goods.
President Joan Laporta insisted in the summer that the pulling of numerous economic levers was in a bid for instant success and although that was met with an early exit in the Champions League, it is all looking rosey in the league.
It’s five straight wins now for Xavi’s men. They’ve not tasted defeat since the Clásico in October – where they let in three of the seven goals they’ve conceded all season.
They’ve now scored the most goals in the division (42) and if they maintain the same form as they did in the first half of the season, they will hit a points total in the high 90s.
Xavi may only see them as the challengers but deep down he must know the title is well and truly in their hands.