By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona have been beset by institutional problems during Gerardo Martino's first season in charge but his record after 50 games shows they are having little impact on the team's performance.
The Spanish champions, a point behind surprise leaders Atletico Madrid with seven games left, will be chasing a 38th win under the Argentine at home to bottom side Real Betis on Saturday to keep alive their chances of a fifth title in six years.
Martino's statistics bear comparison with Barca's greatest names and are remarkably similar to their most successful coach, Pep Guardiola, who won 14 of 19 trophies contested during a glittering four-year reign between 2008 and 2012.
Now at Bayern Munich, Guardiola also won 37 of his first 50 matches in charge of Barca's first team, with the same number of draws (8) and defeats (5).
Martino's side has scored 136 goals and conceded 37, while Guardiola's 2008-09 team, which won a treble of La Liga, King's Cup and Champions League, netted 133 and leaked 42.
Only Helenio Herrera has a superior record to Martino among former Barca coaches, with 40 wins, five draws and five losses in his first 50 matches in charge in the 1958-59 season.
"There is always room for improvement," Martino said after his 50th official game, Tuesday's 1-1 draw at home to Atletico in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg.
"I really liked the way we played and the continuity," the 51-year-old added. "Whenever they play like that I can do no more than head home feeling content."
Barca can still match the 2009 treble, the first by a Spanish club, despite a host of off-field woes.
President Sandro Rosell was forced to step down in January amid allegations of misappropriation of funds and tax fraud linked to the signing of Brazil forward Neymar.
The latest blow came on Wednesday when the club were slapped with a transfer ban by FIFA, which they have said they will appeal, for allegedly breaching rules on the international transfer of foreign under-18 players.
While their institutional problems have diverted media attention from the football, Martino and his players have been going about business on the pitch.
They play their final game of the La Liga campaign at home to Atletico and are two points ahead of third-placed Real Madrid, whom they beat 4-3 in last month's "Clasico" at the Bernabeu.
The Champions League return leg is at Atletico's Calderon stadium next Wednesday before Barca meet Real in the King's Cup final on April 16.
Atletico, coached by Martino's compatriot Diego Simeone, host seventh-placed Villarreal in La Liga on Saturday, when Real play at sixth-placed Real Sociedad, who beat Barca 3-1 at their Anoeta stadium in February.
Local media reported Real's La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo was a doubt for the match in San Sebastian after he limped off near the end after scoring in Wednesday's 3-0 Champions League quarter-final, first leg win at home to Borussia Dortmund.
The Portugal captain, who has 28 goals in Spain's domestic league this season and a record-equalling 14 in the Champions League, has been complaining of discomfort in his left knee in recent weeks and has been playing on while receiving treatment from Real medical staff.
Fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao are six points clear of Sevilla, in fifth, and Sociedad, who each have 50 points, and closing in on a place in Champions League qualifying.
The Basque club, 17 points adrift of Real Madrid after last weekend's 2-1 defeat at home to Atletico, play at mid-table Levante on Monday.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
- Sports & Recreation
- Gerardo Martino
- Atletico Madrid
- Pep Guardiola
- La Liga