Club Focus – Barcelona – Catalans prepare for gruelling schedule

As the 2010/11 season enters the business end, Barcelona, like many other clubs, have a long and arduous month ahead. Far from the pranks and jests of the first of the month, April will indeed be no laughing matter for coach Pep Guardiola and his players. A gruelling schedule of consecutive weekend and midweek games will see the Catalans play seven games in just 22 days with a potential eighth squeezed in should they progress in Europe.

Away from the fixtures of the Primera Division, Barca must also face Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey, as well as attempting to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the fourth consecutive season. Should they get the better of quarter-final opponents Shakhtar Donetsk, La Blaugrana would play the first leg of their potential semi-final against Madrid in what would be their third meeting with Los Blancos in just ten days.

In La Liga, the Catalans have a fairly even spread of fixtures. After a trip to third-placed Villareal this coming Sunday, they have arguably easier ties at home against relegation-threatened Almeria and mid-table Osasuna. Sandwiched in between comes the second Classico of the campaign and a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium to face a Madrid side starting to settle into the rhythm dictated by coach Jose Mourinho.

Shortly afterwards comes the final of the Copa del Rey, again against Madrid. Los Blancos are looking to end a near-twenty year drought in the competition having last won the cup in 1993 and aside from the obvious benefit of silverware, the psychological boost to either club could be huge. With both clubs still battling on all three fronts, the Copa del Rey could be the perfect opportunity for one of the two Spanish giants to inflict the first blow on their opponent.

Arguably the hardest task comes in the form of Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in the quarter-final of the Champions League. The Ukrainian champions-elect are simply cruising in the league and will present a stern test of character for Guardiola’s side. With the first leg at the Nou Camp, a trip to Eastern Europe is hardly the preparation the coach would have wanted before the La Liga Classico just five days later.

If the Catalans want to complete a treble of trophy successes come the end of May, then the period in and around April will most certainly be their toughest examination yet under Pep Guardiola. Both players and fans alike will be boosted by the news that Lionel Messi has been given the all clear after fears he had sustained a muscle injury on international duty. The Argentine perhaps more so than any other player in the Barcelona side will be key in keeping the club on course for the treble.

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