La Liga: Guardiola keeps Barcelona guessing
Once again, the Barcelona coach's apparent reluctance to sign a new contract is fuelling speculation about his future and that of his much-lauded team.
Any seasoned FC Barcelona fan knows there comes a time in every season when coach Pep Guardiolas contract renewal is talked about by the press and mulled over by the man himself, before he signs up for another year.
Since taking the helm at the Catalan club in 2008, he has always insisted on signing on for one-year contract extensions at a time in order to keep up his own high standards as well as those of his players.
But this year, something feels altogether different. There is a nervousness in the air, other offers are being discussed and his players, who usually go through these same motions annually, seem more unsure about his future than ever before.
One look at his record in charge demonstrates why defender Dani Alves stated last week: Without him, were nothing. During his three-and-a-half year reign, the Blaugrana have won an astonishing 13 titles including La Liga for three consecutive years and the Champions League twice and have been hailed as the greatest Bara side ever.
Any question marks over their coachs future had no negative effect on the side at the weekend, as a quick-thinking Lionel Messi secured a 2-1 victory over Atltico Madrid, and maybe that is just what Guardiola was aiming for.
Radamel Falcao had cancelled out Alves’s opening goal at the Vicente Caldern and as the home defence lined up to defend a free-kick wide on the left, Messi noticing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out of position, curled a spectacular strike over his head into the far top corner.
The goal gave Bara only their fifth win in 12 games on the road and though their La Liga aspirations are most likely dead and buried what with Real Madrid 10 points ahead Guardiola knows only too well that his men are heading into the crucial period of the season.
They are still in contention for the Champions League, having put themselves in a commanding position following a 3-1 defeat of Bayer 04 Leverkusen away in the first-leg. In addition, one final berth has already been secured with the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao in May.
Much like Jos Mourinho, who refused to answer questions about his future a few weeks ago when his side were preparing to head to the Camp Nou for a crucial knockout clash in the Copa del Rey, Guardiola knows his public hesitation in committing to the club can only motivate his players, who have seemed somewhat lacking in that department this season.
Realistically, it would be surprising if a winner like Guardiola were to walk away from the club that has played such a fundamental part in his life, if he ended this season empty-handed. Certainly, the club would not want him to go and as a man who is accustomed to winning, he would not shirk a challenge provided by Mourinhos Madrid.
The league leaders themselves were in action at nearby Rayo Vallecano, where another piece of brilliance by Cristiano Ronaldo secured the points. The home side were left to rue missed chances as the Portuguese forward skilfully backheeled in from 10 yards out on 54 minutes after Rayo had failed to clear a Mesut zil corner.
It was a victory that even Mourinho conceded was not deserved, but Madrid are juggernauting towards their 32nd La Liga title.
Elsewhere, new Sevilla coach Michel saw his side come from behind to win their second consecutive game with a 2-1 victory at Valencia.
Tino Costa put the home side ahead in the 25th minute before Gary Medel equalised nine minutes before the break and Jess Navas secured victory in the 70th minute.
Meanwhile, Levante climbed to fourth in La Liga after claiming a 2-1 win at Espanyol.
Valdo gave Levante the lead in the first-half but Kalu Uche’s header put the hosts level. It was left to Rubn Surezs free-kick in the 89th minute to restore the visitors lead and earn them a thrilling win.
Atltico Madrid 1 2 FC Barcelona
Real Sociedad 1 0 RCD Mallorca
Osasuna 2 1 Granada CF
Valencia CF 1 2 Sevilla FC
Rayo Vallecano 0 1 Real Madrid
Villarreal CF 2 2 Athletic Bilbao
RCD Espanyol 1 2 Levante UD
Mlaga CF 5 1 Real Zaragoza
Real Betis 1 1 Getafe CF
Racing Santander 1 1 Sporting Gijn