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Pressure on Martino as Barca stutter

Barcelona: FC Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino needs to find a quick fix for whatever is ailing his team or his first season in charge at the Nou Camp is likely to end without major silverware.

Barca turned in one of their worst performances since the Argentine took over on Saturday and the shock 1-0 La Liga defeat at lowly Real Valladolid opened the way for Real Madrid to stretch their lead at the top.

Although the Catalan giants dominated possession as usual, they squandered what few genuine chances they managed to create against ultra-defensive opponents, with Lionel Messi and Neymar the main culprits.

There was more urgency in the Barca ranks in the second half but far too many passes went astray and Valladolid were comfortably able to hang on to their lead.

Barca were a shadow of the team that blazed a trail in Spain and Europe under Pep Guardiola and the club’s fans will be casting envious glances towards Germany where Guardiola’s new club Bayern Munich swept to another impressive win in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

“We lacked what makes us Barca,” Martino said at a news conference.

“Good elaboration in our build-up, finding spaces, breaking through on the wings and having depth,” the 51-year-old added.

“We had very few chances of actually running at goal and we almost always had to fight against 10 defenders. A good solution would have been creating more space.”

Despite Saturday’s performance, variously labelled”pitiful”,”shameless” and”suicidal” in the Spanish media, Barca, who are chasing a fifth La Liga title in six years, are still alive on three fronts.

They have a 2-0 lead over Manchester City ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last 16, second leg at the Nou Camp and play at Real’s Bernabeu stadium in the La Liga”Clasico” in two weeks.

They will also meet their bitter rivals in the King’s Cup final on April 16, when they will be seeking revenge for their defeat in the showpiece match in 2011 at the same Mestalla stadium in Valencia.

“We had to win at the Bernabeu (in La Liga) regardless,” Martino said.

“Currently we aren’t at our best and we have to find our best form in order to play against teams like Real Madrid. We have 15 days to do it.”

Barca fullback Dani Alves acknowledged that Saturday’s result was”very negative” but insisted he and his team mates would”fight until the end”.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid took full advantage of Barcelona’s shock reverse with a 3-0 win at home to 10-man Levante on Sunday that put them three points clear at the top of La Liga.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the top scorer in Spain this season, took his tally to 24 goals when he headed the opener from Angel Di Maria’s corner in the 11th minute and Marcelo added a second from Ronaldo’s assist four minutes after the break. (reuters)