Pique a doubt for Manchester City clash
Gerard Pique is a doubt for Barcelona’s Champions League last-16 second-leg home tie with Manchester City after picking up a hamstring injury in Saturday’s shock 3-1 Primera Liga loss at Real Sociedad.
The 27-year-old centre-back completed the 90 minutes at Anoeta, forming part of a Blaugrana back line which was fortunate to only concede three times after being terrorised by Txuri-urdin duo Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann.
It was confirmed on his return to Catalonia on Sunday, via a club statement, that the Spain international had picked up a problem in his right thigh -- making him unlikely to be named in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain squad for the friendly at home to Italy on March 5.
"Gerard Pique will be out of action for two weeks after suffering a minor [right] thigh injury last night against Real Sociedad in San Sebastian," the statement read.
"The Catalan centre-back has featured in 33 games this season, scoring four goals. Pique also missed the game away to Betis in November with groin trouble, the same problem that lead to him being dropped as a precautionary measure for the games with Osasuna and Celta."
Pique now faces a race against time to be fit for the return game against Manuel Pellegrini’s men, in which his side will be defending the 2-0 advantage gained in last week’s controversial first leg at Eastlands.
The absence does not come at such a crucial time, however, given Barca have struggling Almeria at the Camp Nou next weekend, with the international break to follow.
Saturday’s result has led to panic in the Catalan press, with Mundo Deportivo pointing out that Barca have taken just 14 points from eight games since the winter break -- one less than Valencia and same as Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Osasuna.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid have won seven and drawn one since Christmas, coming from six points behind to take a three-point lead in the Primera Division standings.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino was the focus of much criticism after the game, particularly regarding his decision to play Alex Song and not Xavi Hernandez in midfield -- changing from the possession-based approach which worked so well against City to a more counter-attacking style, deemed a complete failure.
"Tata Martino put together so many mistakes at Anoeta that his failed plan was not an accident but inexplicable and enormous craziness," wrote Gabriel Sans in Mundo Deportivo summing up the feeling among the Blaugrana press.
Ramon Besa in El Pais pointed to a deeper malaise at a club still suffering from last summer’s controversial Neymar transfer, a new coach unsure of his surroundings and ageing key figures such as Xavi and Carles Puyol.
"There is an absolute principle in how the game is viewed which is being lost with time -- the necessity to put on pressure," Besa wrote. "Nobody presses at Barca -- not the directors, not the coaches and not the players."