Former Real Madrid manager John Toshack says that he sees "a long hard winter" coming for Barcelona if they lose Sunday’s La Liga clasico at Real Madrid.
• Ledwith: La Liga or the Champions League
Barca go into the game knowing a loss would see them seven points behind leaders Madrid, and likely increase the talk of ‘end of an era’ around a club which many claim is losing its way on and off the pitch after the incredible success during Pep Guardiola’s time in charge.
The two-time coach at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu told Ser Catalunya show La Graderia that regular off-field issues, and age catching up on senior players, meant a perfect storm had hit the Camp Nou and big changes were now needed to right things.
“I have no personal interest, but I see Barca with problems,” the Welshman said. “It could be that an era is ending, I see signals of a certain resignation. They have been fantastic for years, but have come from other problems… with Tito [Vilanova], Neymar, [Carles] Puyol, Xavi [Hernandez] also has not long left… I saw the game at Anoeta [the 3-1 loss to Real Sociedad in late February] and it was painful to watch. A long hard winter is coming for Barca. They need a radical change.”
Toshack said it would be a big shock if Barca could win on Sunday, as for him the most likely outcome was a Madrid victory which would give them a huge advantage over the Catalans with just nine games then to play.
“There is a lot of pride at stake in this type of game,” he said. “But if Barca win the clasico, it will be a big surprise. After this weekend Madrid will have a seven-point gap. I could be wrong, but that is how it seems.”
Better news for Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is that he will likely have all his first-choice players available for Sunday’s game, with just club captain Puyol, 35, a doubt due to his continuing knee issues.
“The squad trained at the Ciutat Esportiva on Thursday morning, as preparations continued for Sunday's big game against Madrid,” Thursday’s club statement said. “All 22 players available were involved in the session, with no Barca B or Youth team youngsters called in today. Carles Puyol trained apart, while the injured Jonathan dos Santos and Isaac Cuenca continued to work on their recuperation.”
Martino is expected to return to the more ‘possession-based’ approach which was successful in both October’s 2-1 win over Madrid in the reverse fixture at the Camp Nou, and more recently against Manchester City in the Champions League. This would mean all four Spain internationals Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas start in midfield.
Neymar, who earlier this week managed to fit in a snap-visit to Disneyland Paris with Brazil colleague Thiago Silva, could well be on the bench, with Martino preferring either Alexis Sanchez or Pedro Rodriguez alongside Lionel Messi in attack.