With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at FC Barcelona, who have won all their European matches so far, in stark contrast to their domestic form.
The story so far
Marvellous in Europe, mediocre at home. Such is the conundrum facing Barcelona coach Louis van Gaal. How can a team that has won ten consecutive Champions League games - equalling AC Milan's ten-year record - struggle so abjectly in the Primera División? On paper, Barcelona would expect to have beaten Galatasaray SK, FC Lokomotiv Moskva and Club Brugge KV, yet all three clubs have been on a high this year and six wins out of six against them, followed by victories over 2002 finalists Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Newcastle United FC, is record-breaking form.
Despite occasionally being below their best, and even though Van Gaal chose to field under-strength sides when qualification from the first group stage was assured, the Spanish giants have always had enough class to see off their European opponents, which makes their domestic woes even harder to understand.
No one can quite credit how a team who have performed so admirably in Europe could be stuck in mid-table and could have laboured against some of Spain's lesser lights. The answer seems to be that Barça's big-name players, men like Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Javier Saviola and Juan Riquelme, have either not found their midweek form domestically or have not been included in the side for league games at all.
Barcelona are a club that demands the best. They relish the big stage. So when they play in Europe, the atmosphere around Camp Nou goes up a few notches and the players look more motivated. They perform accordingly... and, more often than not, they win.
In addition, there are few more talented forward lines in the European game, particularly when Kluivert and Luis Enrique are on song. Barcelona's firepower is such that they can beat any side on their day, but domestically, it has not been their day often enough.
Spanish pundits argue that a settled line-up would improve the situation and that there should always be room for the best players in the side. Leaving Saviola and Riquelme on the bench has seemed a particularly risky decision given their performances when they have played. Despite their frailties, particularly in defence, they seem confident they can win the Champions League and secure their second European Champion Clubs' Cup.
Key player - Carlos Puyol
While Kluivert and Luis Enrique have had impressive seasons so far, strangely for Barcelona their best player is a homegrown talent. Having taken the captain's armband, Carlos Puyol has become an absolute stalwart in the Catalan defence, unfazed by the big occasion and giving every ounce of passion he can muster whenever he pulls on the Blaugrana shirt.
Best moment so far
The proudest moment was equalling Milan's ten-year-old record after beating Newcastle United with goals from Dani García, Kluivert and Thiago Motta. Consequently, Barça are now just one game away from equalling AFC Ajax's record of eleven straight wins in European competition.
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