Ronald Koeman’s side are top of the form league over the past six games, having taken 16 from 18 points while leaders Atlético faltered, picking up only 11 points in the same period. That has been enough to hoist Barça up to second place in La Liga, above Real Madrid and Sevilla, who both took 15 of the last 18 points available. Barça are now five points behind Diego Simeone’s side and two ahead of Madrid, though having played a game more than both.
What may prove a turning point in the season was the second of two visits to Sevilla’s Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium in February. Having lost the first leg of the King’s Cup semi final 2-0 – the second leg is due to be played at the Camp Nou in the first week of March – Barça returned three weeks later in the league and turned in what was likely their best performance of the season after Koeman switched back to a formation he had flirted with briefly in December, namely playing three centre halves and two wing backs. The tactical change resulted in domination of a team that had been in excellent form and only conceded once in its previous nine games. Barça this time came away from the Sánchez-Pizjuán with a more than merited 2-0 win thanks to goals from Dembele and Messi, limiting the hosts to no shots on target in the first half and indeed very little threat throughout the entire 90 minutes: some achievement given Lopetegui’s side’s brilliant recent form. That result meant that Barça had won 12 and drawn three of their last 15 league games, putting them in with every chance of challenging for this year’s league title.
It was a completely different story in the two cup competitions, however, as, in addition to that seemingly decisive 2-0 King’s Cup semi-final loss at Sevilla, Barça succumbed to a devastating 4-1 home defeat to PSG in the Champion’s League. PSG forward Kylian Mbappé was the star of the show, terrorising the Barça defence and scoring a hat trick after being given far too much space at the Camp Nou. However, Koeman will be forgiven for the more than probable exits from those two competitions should his team continue their excellent league form and have nicked the title from long-time leaders Atlético and arch rivals Real Madrid come the end of the season.
After being top of the Second Division for much of this season, Espanyol now find themselves in second place and fighting for automatic promotion. They were also knocked out of the King’s Cup in the past month, losing 2-0 at home to top-flight outfit Osasuna.
The good news for periquito fans, however, is that an alarming run of three league games without a win, including two defeats, did not turn into a slump, and eight points from the last twelve will make them think they have every chance of still claiming one of the two automatic promotion spots, despite Almería and Leganés closing in below them. In fact, a spirited draw at in-form Sporting in the last game of February was a sign that this team may well yet make its way back into the First Division at the first time of asking, even if it seems like they are winning less when playing better football. Complaints over refereeing decisions are also becoming commonplace on their travels: the referee’s performance appeared to be decisive in the game at Sporting, denying the visitors a penalty and the sending off of Javi Fuego for a second yellow card. Strange situations that have been repeated throughout the season and are not helping Espanyol’s cause. Head coach Vicente Moreno is not looking for excuses, however, and insists that good football will always be rewarded. Despite deserving victory at a team that has not lost at home all season, Espanyol will take great confidence from another impressive performance and look to renew their assault on the first position with three home games – against Oviedo, Logroñés and Fuenlabrada – and two away games – at Mirandés and Castellón – in March.
Although Francisco’s side continue in the battle for a First Division play-off place thanks to sixth-placed Rayo only taking two points from their last 12, Girona’s form is not currently that of promotion hopefuls, only chalking up two wins from their last six games themselves. Now four points off sixth, they also have Ponferradina three points above them in seventh, so there’s plenty of work to be done if Girona are going to contest the play-offs for a second season running.
In their last outing of the month, Girona demonstrated their lack of cutting edge when they were unable to finish off a stuttering but physical opponent in Fuenlabrada, despite taking an early lead from the penalty spot. Francisco’s side then allowed the home team to impose themselves rather than going on to take the initiative, something you would expect from a team fighting to get among the promotion places, and they were duly punished by an equaliser on 70 minutes. “If we don’t start putting a run of victories together, it will be impossible to reach sixth place,” Francisco said after the game.
There is some optimism around the side now that top scorer Cristhian Stuani is back among the goals, however, the Uruguayan international having netted three times in the last three games. Added to that is the fact that after Almería’s visit to Montilivi at the start of March, Girona will have played all of the top four sides home and away, leaving them with a run-in full of possibilities.