Guardiola: 'We have to improve'

Barcelona coach defends recent performances as Real Madrid pile on the pressure.

    Guardiola admitted his team could play better after Tuesday's draw [GALLO/GETTY]

    Champions Barcelona host Malaga in Spain's Primera Division this weekend knowing that rivals Real Madrid are snapping at their heels.

    Manuel Pellegrini's Real, who sit two points behind Pep Guardiola's side, know they could go top this weekend if the champions slip up.

    Last Saturday, Barcelona thumped Racing Santander 4-0, only to have the game dubbed one of their worst performances of the last 18 months.

    The Catalans also failed to convince in their midweek 1-1 Champions League draw at Stuttgart in a game described by former Barcelona player and coach Johan Cruyff as the "worst game of the Guardiola era."

    The result left Guardiola defending the team who won an unprecedented six trophies in 2009.

    "People just assume it’s all over and done with," Guardiola said after the game on Tuesday.

    "People think we just going to win the game whatever happens because we are reigning champions. But that's not the case.

    “Everything is hard work. The other teams are very well prepared."

    Pressure point

    Guardiola attempted to justify Tuesday's result by trying to explain that Barcelona had to do more than just simply turn up to win the match.

    "There are times when things flow and times when they don't. The team always tries to do the right thing, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he added.

    The coach did admit, however, that his team can play better.

    "The result was relatively positive, but we have to improve to win any titles. We know what we have to do and I have no doubt that we will do it."

    The earlier-than-expected return from injury of midfield orchestrator Xavi, who played the full 90 minutes in Germany, was at least some good news for Guardiola.

    Another recent concern however has been the form of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede has scored 12 league goals in his first season in Spain and he equalised against Stuttgart.

    However, recently his scoring has slowed and Guardiola said his movement off the ball needs to improve.

    Liga fixtures

    Saturday February 27

     Barcelona v Malaga
     Getafe v Real Zaragoza
     Tenerife v Real Madrid

    Sunday February 28

     Atletico Madrid v Valencia
     Racing Santander v Almeria
     Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao
     Sporting Gijon v Osasuna
     Valladolid v Mallorca
     Villarreal v Deportivo
     Xerez v Espanyol

    "He moves, but sometimes it's hard to find him,'' said the coach.

    "I want him to score goals because a No. 9 is judged on that basis.''

    Saturday's opponent Malaga struggled near the bottom of the table early in the season but are now 12th after a four-game unbeaten run.

    Not far behind

    With Tenerife in the relegation zone, Real should be confident of wining in the Heliodoro Rodriguez Lopez Stadium.

    Cristiano Ronaldo has stolen most of the headlines with a string of match-winning performances but Real are still waiting to see the best of Brazilian playmaker Kaka, their other major summer signing.

    Real paid AC Milan $90 million to bring the 27-year-old to the Bernabeu but he has only recently shaken off a lingering groin injury and has yet to reproduce the form that won him the 2007 Fifa World Player award.

    "When you have talent, sooner or later you will show it," Real director and former player Emilio Butragueno said this week.

    "Kaka is one of the world's best players," he added.

    "There is no debate."

    Third-place Valencia visit Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Valencia sit on 46 points, 12 off the lead, and are aiming to stay in the Champions League spots, while 13th-place Atletico is aiming to find some consistency in an erratic league season. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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