x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Barcelona's away-day hiccups

The Valencia region has been a difficult place for Pep Guardiola's side over the past 12 months.

The Valencia region has been a difficult place for Barcelona in the past 12 months. Pep Guardiola's side lost the Spanish Cup final to Real Madrid in the Mestalla in April - a defeat which prevented the Catalans from registering a clean sweep of all six trophies in 2011.

They could only draw at Valencia in the league this term. It was a thrilling game, but a draw is like a defeat for either of Spain's big two and the result was symptomatic of Barca's season. Barca have drawn more times than they have won on the road, whereas Real have won eight of their 10 away matches to open up a seven-point gap at the top of the table.

The Barca players claim they will chase to the end as they go in pursuit of a fourth consecutive title and the Catalan media are highlighting past leads blown by Real.

But no matter how unhappy he claims to be, Jose Mourinho's side are strong favourites to lift a first title since 2008.

Barca's latest away-day hiccup came in the Valencia region on Saturday when the Catalans, who are suffering from a growing injury list, were held to a 0-0 draw at Villarreal.

Lionel Messi cursed his side's lack of luck while both coaches praised their teams, though Sandro Rosell, Barca's president, complained that refereeing decision were going against his club.

With injuries meaning just 15 first-team players available, tough away games approaching, plus the cup, Barca look more likely to drop points than Real. The situation does not necessarily spell doom. Guardiola's priority is to become the first team since AC Milan 21 years ago to retain the European Cup, but he is also serious about winning the Copa del Rey.

The reward for beating Real over two legs is yet another trip to Valencia and the Mestalla tonight for the semi-final first leg.

The winners will play the victors of the match between Athletic Bilbao and third division Mirandes, who have knocked out three top-flight clubs on the way to becoming only the second third-tier club to reach the semi-final. It will be a big shock if they can reach the final, bigger than if Barca retain the league.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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