La Liga giants keeping calm

Madrid have seen their 22-game winning streak come to a sudden halt after suffering back-to-back defeats this week, while Barcelona, also beaten in the league last weekend, needed a 5-0 rout of Elche in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night to distract attention from boardroom problems and growing rumours regarding Lionel Messi’s happiness at the Nou Camp.

Madrid let slip a lead to lose to Valencia in the league last weekend, and followed it up with a 2-0 defeat to rivals Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 clash.

But Carlo Ancelotti insisted there was no major cause for concern.

“Criticism is normal because we won 22 games and now it is normal to seek explanations,” he said in Friday’s press conference.

“But I do not see a serious problem and I am not worried, because I know the team well and I know the commitment they have.”

Barca lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad last weekend, but that result has seemed secondary to boardroom problems which surfaced in the days since.

It began on Monday when sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked, while his assistant, club stalwart Carles Puyol, chose to follow.

With growing reports of friction in the changing room, where several players – including Messi – are said to be unhappy with coach Luis Enrique’s methods, Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced on Wednesday his decision to bring the club’s elections forward by 12 months in order to recover “stability”.

Messi and Neymar returned to fire Barca to a convincing win over Elche in the Copa, and afterwards Enrique insisted all is well behind the scenes.

“Our supporters have always been confident about us,” he said.

“I can see that they have faith in the team because of the attitude they show … I am super-confident that we are ready for the rest of the season and I’m trying to get that confidence across to the team.”

But Barca face a testing Sunday evening with champions Atletico Madrid the visitors to the Nou Camp, buoyed by that victory over Real.

Atletico are level on points with Barca, one behind Real, after the leading pair lost last week, and their trip to Barcelona gives Diego Simeone’s men another chance to make a mark in the title race.