Ahead of the Copa del Rey final in Valencia on Wednesday, reigning Spanish champions Barcelona are in a rut.
Not a small one, but a big old rut they have to climb out of, fast.
With the first Spanish title of the 2013-14 on the line, two of world soccer’s biggest rivals will square off for the silverware, with Barcelona in much more need of a win than Real Madrid.
In the midst of two-straight defeats, which has seen their UEFA Champions League hopes ended by Atletico Madrid and their La Liga title ambitions dented after losing to midtable Granada, Barcelona is in free-fall before their cup final with Real.
Here’s three reasons why they have to win at the Mestalla.
To save Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s job
With many focusing on the difficult job David Moyes has had at succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United this season, at the Nou Camp Gerardo Martino has had an equally difficult task. The Argentine manager has tampered and altered the shape of the team, training methods and many of the other factors that have been common place at Barca for many years. It is not easy to replace Pep Guariola and his former assistant Tito Vilanova after their sensational record of success. Yet Martino’s side have looked disjointed and jaded in the last few months. If Tata doesn’t win any silverware this season, he will likely be on his way out. Some Barca fans may think getting rid of Martino is a good thing but we all know continuity often breads success. Chopping and changing rarely does.
Send the veterans off on the right note
Carlos Puyol is racing against injury to be fit for the final, yet even if he doesn’t take part, Barca’s players on the pitch must have Puyol and others on their mind. Puyol’s winning legacy at Barcelona will be remembered fondly for many years but finishing on a high note with a least one trophy to celebrate this season would be a good way to go. Along with Puyol, long -term ‘keeper Victor Valdes had his season ended through injury and he will likely never play for Barca again. The aging Xavi Hernandez may also see his time at Barcelona dwindling in the coming seasons, so this trophy isn’t just another game, it is a chance to grab a final piece of silverware for some of the clubs greatest every players.
Kick start their La Liga campaign
Confidence. It’s massive in soccer. Once you’re playing in a team that’s rolling, it’s difficult to explain that no matter who you’re up against, you know you will win. If Barcelona beat Real Madrid on Wednesday and lift a title in the process, they can be inspired by that with their last five La Liga games coming up. Right now they are four points off leaders Atletico Madrid, but Copa del Rey success could re-ignite the hunger in Barca’s players.