at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid - 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.”
In-form Real, who are undefeated in 28 matches in all competitions since they lost to Barca in La Liga at the end of October, can open a four-point lead over Martino's side with a win at home to Levante later on Sunday.
Victory at the Bernabeu would put them three ahead of Atletico Madrid, who climbed above Spain's big two to the top of the table thanks to Saturday's 2-0 win at Celta Vigo.
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”.
“It's hard to win the league if you don't take the three points week in and week out,” the Brazil international told reporters.
“Now we don't depend on ourselves and that complicates things,” he added.
“We will never give up, we will fight until the end like we've always done. There isn't time for complaints, we have to keep on fighting.” – Reuters