Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

London calling as Guardiola looks to lift troops

Pete Jenson

The loudspeakers of the Mestalla Stadium blared out 'London Calling' by The Clash ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey final -- the same tune will now play out for Pep Guardiola as he looks to pick his side up and dust them down after their first ever reverse against Real Madrid since he took over in 2008.

Forget the Cup, look to the Champions League was the message and all La Liga observers were left wondering if that would be as easy as it sounded.

Things will never be quite the same again for Guardiola after Wednesday night's defeat. Having won eight of a possible 10 trophies since taking over and leaving Real in his shadow, his domination of the enemy has finally been broken. The appearance of infallibility that he always warned supporters would not last forever has finally gone.

Now it remains to be seen if Guardiola can lift his players and make that London final of the Champions League -- something that matters far more to the club's supporters than the defeat in Valencia -- or if a wind of change is not now blowing through Spanish football in favour of Real.

"We have to regroup and get back to concentrating on our main aim, which has always been to win the league. We cannot think about the final when we have a game against Osasuna this weekend," he said.

"It's always better to win than to lose but life is like that -- you can't always win.

"We will pick ourselves up -- of course we will. We are more sad than if we had won, but that's part of the game. These players have been playing together for a long time and we'll bounce back."

But although Barca now look certain to win the La Liga title, it is the Champions League final at Wembley, where they first won the trophy in 1992, that really matters and there is the growing fear that as Real get stronger Guardiola is running out of players.

Adriano yesterday confirmed that he will miss the next four weeks with an abdominal injury and the midfielder joins Bojan Krkic on the sidelines for probably the rest of the season.

Barca are already missing Eric Abidal, while their captain Carles Puyol limps from one injury to another -- he came back after a two-month lay-off against Real at the weekend but did not complete the 90 minutes and missed the Cup final.

There is a feeling in Catalonia that Barcelona's current team now picks itself thanks to a dangerous lack of competition for places and the club is paying for not reinforcing the squad at the start of the season.

Guardiola has worked miracles with Barcelona in his first three seasons, but this could be his biggest challenge yet -- overcoming the doubts sown by Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat.

A London final at Wembley Stadium is the reward but with a third away match against Real in the space of two weeks to be negotiated next Wednesday, it will be anything but easy. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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