Van Gaal stands his ground

Bobby Robson's return to Camp Nou tonight has increased the pressure on FC Barcelona coach Louis van Gaal.

Robson reunion
FC Barcelona's Dutch international winger Marc Overmars was in no doubt as to the problem facing his compatriot and coach Louis van Gaal ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match with Newcastle United FC at Camp Nou. On the eve of his 101st European tie as a coach, with a Champions League record eighth-straight win beckoning if Barcelona can overcome Robson's men, Van Gaal knows that a defeat will increase the calls for his head around the Catalan capital.

'Will I be sacked?'
"I am the best coach for Barcelona," comes the stock-in-trade answer. "I know the players and I do not believe it would be a fair decision to sack me. Am I going to be sacked? Well, you have to ask the directors about that." Such is the lot of the man who brought Barcelona their last two league titles after replacing Robson in the hot seat in 1997. Not even his predecessor can match that distinction, despite landing the Spanish Super Cup, Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in his 12 months in the job.

Barça's reduced status
What the Dutchman would give now, however, for some domestic success. Tenth in the Primera División represents the Blaugrana's worst league position after 13 games in over 60 years. Spanish teams seem to understand their weak points far better than Barça's occasional European opponents do. And because of this, and the mistakes which Van Gaal says are hindering his players week in week out, the club finds itself in this reduced status. Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano was their fifth of the campaign.

European masters
Contrast that with their peerless European form. Starting with back-to-back wins over Legia Warszawa, Van Gaal's side have beaten Club Brugge KV, FC Lokomotiv Moskva and Galatasaray SK home and away. They then iced the cake with a smash-and-grab 2-1 victory in Germany over their first Group A opponent Bayer 04 Leverkusen a fortnight ago. Most impressive of all have been the tight, aggressive and clinical displays in Belgium, Moscow, Istanbul and Leverkusen - away victories which are now the calling card of European heavyweights in this 'he who dares wins' era of the Champions League.

Disparity in form
Yet Barcelona cannot win away from home in the league. Not since early September, when a dazzling combination between Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola brought the goal of the month in defeating Athletic Club Bilbao, have Van Gaal's team won on the road. Why the disparity in form? "That is a question we ask ourselves many times but I don't have a simple answer," Overmars said.

Easing the pressure
"What I know is that we must not only win against Newcastle but also on Sunday against Sevilla [FC] because we need to take some of the pressure off ourselves." And off Van Gaal too. For all his problems the trainer remains confident and good-humoured. "Many times in my career I have faced moments like this," he said. "All I can do is prepare the players, get their heads up but, in the end, they are the only ones who can put this right. I can only help them."