|Barca boss Luis Enrique - Getty Images|
The sense that Barcelona are beginning to unravel following their third consecutive league defeat was reinforced by the short-tempered press conference Luis Enrique gave after Sunday’s home defeat to Valencia.
A journalist for the Diario Gol website, Victor Malo, asked the manager whether the physical preparation at the club might be to blame for the recent bad results, according to sport-english.com.
Luis Enrique responded by saying: “What was your surname?”
When the journalist replied “Malo” –meaning “bad” in Spanish – the manager said: “Correct, next question.”
Barcelona’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia allowed Atlético Madrid to draw level at the top of La Liga with Real Madrid only one point behind the leading pair, capping a disastrous week for the Catalan side.
On top of their declining league form, Barcelona were also knocked out of the Champions League by Atlético, ending hopes of going for a second successive treble.
There could be more problems in store for Barça after Neymar allowed his frustrations to spill over at the end of the Valencia game.
The Brazil striker, who had earlier been booked, was filmed apparently slapping or poking the Valencia full-back Antonio Barragán before running off towards the tunnel.
Marca reported that Neymar also threw a bottle of water at the defender, which missed, before shouting: “Shut up, I earn 10 times more than you!”
Barcelona’s stuttering title bid suffered a setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atlético Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granada.
Barça have 76 points along with Atlético, who knocked the holders out of the Champions League in midweek, and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.
Atlético earlier eased to a 3-0 home win over Granada after Fernando Torres grabbed his fourth goal in as many games with Koke and substitute Angel Correa also on the scoresheet.
Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair.
An own goal by Barça midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Camp Nou and Santi Mina added a second just before half-time to stun the Barça supporters.
Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser.
Despite Barcelona registering a third successive league defeat for the first time since 2003, Luis Enrique remained upbeat about his team’s chances of winning the title. “We’ve got a marvellous challenge, if we win the five games remaining we will be champions,” he said.
“Of course, our credit has run out and we are aware of the challenge. We’re going to approach it like a Barça player always does, with our heads held high.”
Barça humiliated a Valencia side coached by Gary Neville 7-0 in the Copa del Rey in February but had a much tougher time against successor Pako Ayesteran’s side and went behind when Guilherme Siqueira’s cross bounced off Rakitic and beyond Claudio Bravo.