This is absolutely insane. Barcelona are unbeaten in eleven games in La Liga this season. In the Champions League, they have lost once. And yet, their season is at a massive turning point this week. Today's 1-1 draw at San Mames against Atheltic didn't help. After going up a goal thanks to another thread-the-needle pass from Xavi to Dan Alves, they stupidly allowed Athletic to draw level. How? Well, Dani Alves felt the need to fake an injury, went off to "get treatment" and while this was going on, space opened up at...you guessed it...right back, and that was that. Ugh.
Anyway, why is this week so huge? On Tuesday, Barcelona play host to Inter Milan. The list of players who are, in all likelihood, missing the game due to injury and/or swine flu is immense: Messi, Ibra, Yaya Toure, Abidal, and Marquez. Following the midweek game is the small matter of playing host to Real Madrid, who are suddenly top of the table in La Liga.
If you haven't been following this group of death, it's actually a little bit insane. Each of the teams -- Barca, Inter, Rubin and Dynamo -- won their domestic leagues last year. Furthermore, as things stand, every possible combination of teams can go through. Can you imagine both Barca and Inter being dumped out of the Champions League before the knockout stage?
Anyway, for Barca, the equation is simple. Four points gets us through (after hosting Inter, the last game is in tropical Ukraine...in mid-December).
Three points, and it starts getting really complicated. If the three points come against Inter, then Barca are basically through -- the only way they will be knocked out after beating Inter is if (a) they lose to Dynamo away in their last game, (b) Rubin beat Dynamo this week, and (c) Inter beat Rubin in the last game. If, on the other hand, the three points come from Dynamo in the last game (i.e. if Barca lose to Inter this week), then they need Rubin to get no more than two points from their last two games. I know, my head is spinning too.
Technically, Barca could get through with just two draws too -- but the permutations required for that are so complicated I don't even want to get into it. Suffice it to say, I'm hoping for a win this week against Inter. But with the injured/illness list, it will be incredibly challenging. The one saving grace is that, by some reports, Sneijder is also hurt for Inter, and he's been their best player this season. So...crossed fingers.
I don't even want to think about Real next weekend. First things first. But what a week this is. Conceivably, Barca could be knocked out of the Champions League by Wednesday (if they lose to Inter and Rubin beat Dynamo), and be four points behind Real by next weekend. Yikes.