But it will not be easy for Ernesto Valverde’s team as they travel to take on defensively excellent Getafe, who have aspirations of claiming a European place after a strong first half of the season.
And whether Lionel Messi and co will be able to break down the home team’s dogged defence is the big question ahead of this Sunday night showdown.
Can Getafe stop Barca again?
Getafe succeeded in taking a point off Barca the last time the teams met, earning a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou in February, and the Madrid-based side will be confident of their chances of doing more damage to the champions this time around.
The well-drilled defensive display which restricted Barca to a handful of clear chances in that encounter has been typical of their rise under highly-regarded coach Jose Bordalas, whose team are sitting pretty in seventh place as 2019 gets underway.
Getafe boast the second-best defensive record in the division with 13 goals conceded in 19 games (Atletico have allowed just 12), and have been particularly stingy at their Alfonso Perez Coliseum home, letting in only four goals in eight games. They also finished 2018 in fine fettle with a five-game unbeaten run, so confidence is high as the new year dawns.
Central defender Djene Dakonam, who is occasionally employed by Bordalas as an additional defensive midfielder, has perhaps been their best performer, but this is a team built around collective organisation rather than outstanding individuals and they are ready to make life more than difficult for Barca once again on Sunday night.
Who will support Messi in attack?
As always, responsibility for undoing Getafe’s watertight defence will fall to Messi, who brought 2018 to a close in scintillating style by firing home six goals in three games, taking his personal tally for the league campaign to 15 – just three goals fewer than the entire Getafe team.
Messi will be accompanied by Luis Suarez, but against such a well-organised defensive team like Getafe, who do an outstanding job of closing down the space in and around their penalty area, the biggest challenge facing the visitors will be finding some kind of supply line for the Uruguayan striker.
With that in mind, the thing Barca need most from Messi – rather than his outlandish scoring abilities – is his creativity. Chances will be at a premium considering Getafe’s ability to keep the ball away from their danger zone, and Barca will have to be prepared for an ultra-physical challenge from an opposing side which has committed more fouls – 17.7 per game – than any other team in La Liga.
It’s the kind of game where possession doesn’t count for much: Barca must also find penetration, and if Ousmane Dembele can support Messi by producing a spark to bury the demons of his last trip to the stadium – when he suffered a serious thigh injury early last season – their chances of success will significantly increase.
Setting the right tone for 2019?
The main talking point surrounding Barca during the winter break came with an interview given by boss Valverde, who admitted with surprising openness that he has no idea whether he will still be at the club next season.
Valverde’s contract expires at the end of the current campaign and there have been differing reports over a possible renewal, with some speculating it’s a matter of time until he signs again whereas others have claimed only a Champions League victory will be enough to keep him in situ.
Barca’s season so far has been very good, but no silverware has been secured yet and the biggest challenges lie ahead for a team which has occasionally showed worrying signs of frailty. Being able to overcome a dangerous opponent like Getafe would be the perfect way to set the right tone for a few months which will be anything but dull.
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde recently revealed to Barca TV that he is unsure of whether he will be undertaking a coaching role next season. The Spaniard’s contract with the Catalan club expires in the summer of 2019, but a clause in the contract states that it could be extended by one more year if the parties involved agree.
Managing one of the best clubs in the world is demanding and the expectations are incredibly high. Barcelona won a domestic double in Valverde’s first year at the club and only a treble can top that.
These are some of the candidates who could replace the 54-year-old, should he part ways with the Spanish giants.
Current club: Real Betis
Why Setien: The self-confessed Cruijffista will be the perfect replacement for Valverde at Barcelona. Setien has implemented the ‘Total Football’ system at Real Betis and impressed fans throughout Europe with his exciting brand of football. This blends well with the Barcelona philosophy and the attributes of the players suits such a system.
Why not Setien: The fact that the Spaniard has not coached a top European club until now could work against him. Valverde had not coached a top European club before he took over at Barcelona but he had a history with the club, having played under Johan Cruyff.
Current club: None
Why Conte: The Italian has an impressive track record at the top level in club and international football. Conte won the Premier League in the 2016/17 season and revolutionised the concept of a three-man defence in the process.
Why not Conte: The fact that the Italian could not maintain the dressing room at Chelsea was a contributing factor to why he was ousted. He might have to deal with bigger egos at Barcelona and the ride might not be smooth.
Current club: Valencia
Why Marcelino: The Valencia boss knows the league well and has prior experience managing clubs like Sevilla and Villarreal. Marcelino also led Valencia to a fourth-place finish last season.
Why not Marcelino: Valencia’s recent results from this season make a case for why the Spaniard might not be the best option. A step up from a struggling Valencia to a Barcelona – who by the end of the season could have won the league – would be extremely challenging.
Current club: Player, Al Sadd
Why Xavi: A legend at Barcelona, the player knows the club inside out. Xavi never hesitated mentioning his desire to coach the club someday. The 38-year-old will be most likely implement Pep Guardiola’s system, or a variation. This is a proven mantra and the chances that he will taste success is high.
Why not Xavi: Too soon. The La Masia graduate has had no coaching experience whatsoever. He would be better off gaining some experience before accepting this massive responsibility.
Current club: Barcelona B
Why Pimienta: The Barcelona B coach knows the youngsters very well and their transition from the B team to the first squad could be smooth. Pimienta could be a great long-term option. Again, the Spaniard’s philosophy is in line with that of the club.
Why not Pimienta: The 44-year-old might not be a great short-term option, mainly due to the fact that he has no experience of coaching a team in the first division. That being said, Barcelona did take the risk with Pep Guardiola a decade ago and that turned out pretty well.
The 54-year-old did a domestic double in his first season, winning La Liga and Copa Del Rey. Halfway through his second season, Barcelona are on top of the La Liga table and through to the last 16 of Copa Del Rey and Champions League.
“Next season? I do not know my future or what I will be doing at that stage,” Valverde told Barcelona TV.
“In football you never know what will happen, things are fluid and you can never allow yourself to think in the long term.
“When you are in this business, two months is a very long time. Thoughts and feelings change on individual results – if you win things are great, if you lose everyone is sad and talking about you.
“I want everyone to be happy with my work and the work of my staff and my players, but in football there are no guarantees.
“If we do not meet our objectives – domestically and in Europe – people will look at the coach, it is the way things are.”