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Mid-season report: Barcelona

Sports Mole recaps Barcelona's first half of the 2013-14 season.

It will come as no surprise that Barcelona currently top La Liga after 17 matches of the season, but the Spanish champions have drawn criticism for a perceived change of playing style in the new campaign.

New boss Gerardo Martino has admittedly sacrificed some of their passing football for a more intense approach in the final third, but they face a fight to retain their league crown with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both impressing thus far.

That said, it has been a successful campaign for Barca, with Champions League and Copa del Rey progress also secured as the Catalan outfit target success in all three major competitions.

Here, Sports Mole recaps the club's first half of the 2013-14 season.

August

David Villa and Thiago were the two major outgoings for Barcelona in the summer, but they finally secured Brazilian superstar Neymar from Santos.

The relatively unknown Martino replaced Tito Vilanova at the helm, but it did not take long for Barca to make their mark in La Liga with a 7-0 win over Levante on the opening weekend of the season, before they made it six points from two games with a 1-0 victory against Malaga.

Success also followed in the Spanish Super Cup as they secured the title against Atletico Madrid on away goals after a 1-1 draw in the Vicente Calderon preceded a goalless draw in the Camp Nou.

There were rumours that former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas could leave for Manchester United, but the Spanish international remained with the Catalan outfit.

Barcelona's Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino looks on during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Real Valladolid CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 5, 2013© Getty Images

September

A nervy 3-2 win over Valencia - where Lionel Messi struck a first-half hat-trick - started the month of September, before they continued their winning start to La Liga with a 3-2 win at home to Sevilla – courtesy of a late strike from Alexis Sanchez.

Their Champions League campaign got underway with a 4-0 win over Ajax, before they scored eight times in two wins over Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad in the league.

The month ended with a 2-0 win over Almeria, with that result leaving them top of the table on 21 points, although Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid side also boasted seven wins at that stage of the season.

Neymar and Sanchez were also impressing for the Catalan outfit, meaning that Spanish winger Pedro, who himself was among the goals, had to spend time on the sidelines.

Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal against Cartagena during their Copa del Rey match on December 17, 2013© AFP

October

Fabregas's late header was enough to secure a 1-0 win over Celtic in their second Champions League fixture, before they continued their stunning league form with a 4-1 win over Real Valladolid.

They dropped their first La Liga and Champions League points in the middle of the month, however, with draws against Osasuna and AC Milan respectively.

The first El Clasico of the season went the way of the Catalan outfit, however, as Neymar and Sanchez scored in a 2-1 win over Real Madrid, which moved Barca six points clear in La Liga.

Martino's side ended the month with a 3-0 win over Celta Vigo, but criticism was apparent in various quarters due to a perceived change in style. They were winning games, but not in the same manner as under Vilanova and Pep Guardiola.

Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona scores the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on December 11, 2013© Getty Images

November

Wins over Espanyol and AC Milan in the league and Champions League respectively continued their strong form in both competitions, before a 4-1 success over Real Betis left them three points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the league table.

That victory over Betis came at a price, however, with Messi suffering a serious hamstring injury, which was to rule him out of the remainder of the year.

Problems were also apparent in defence with Carlos Puyol struggling to return from a long-term injury and Jordi Alba picking up niggling strains in the latter stages of the month.

A 4-0 win over Granada occurred on November 23, but they had to wait to secure qualification from their Champions League group after losing 2-1 in Ajax.

Barcelona's forward Pedro Rodriguez celebrates with teammates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Getafe CF vs FC Barcelona at the Alfonso Perez Coliseum in Getafe on December 22, 2013© Getty Images

December

Their first league defeat of the season came on the opening day of the month as they lost 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, but they returned to form in the Champions League with a 6-1 win over Celtic.

Progression as group winners into the last-16 stage was therefore confirmed, where they were paired with Premier League side Manchester City in arguably the tie of the round.

Qualification for the next round of the Copa del Rey was also secured after they overcame Cartagena 7-1 on aggregate, before wins over Villarreal and Getafe in the league ensured that they finished 2013 on top of La Liga, albeit only on goal difference from Atletico Madrid.

It is difficult to be critical of a team that has won 15 of their 17 league fixtures this season, but many are tipping Atletico and Real Madrid to provide a stern challenge in the second half of the season.

A number of players – particularly defenders – have been linked with moves to the Camp Nou in January, but it is unlikely that the Catalan outfit will do too much business in the winter window.

Messi will soon be at full fitness, but reports have claimed that the Argentine wants a new long-term and indeed improved contract due to the wages currently being collected by teammate Neymar.

However, talk of a possible departure from Spain are believed to be considerably wide of the mark. One thing is for certain - Barca need a fully-fit Messi if they are to enjoy a prosperous 2014.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi gives a thumbs up on September 18, 2013© AFP

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Barcelona's midfielder Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring their fifth goal during the Spanish league football match Getafe vs Barcelona at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe near Madrid on December 22, 2013
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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
ChinaChina21131246
JapanJapan175830
United StatesUnited States16171346
Olympics flagOlympic Athletes from Russia11151137
AustraliaAustralia1031427
Great BritainGreat Britain891128
Today's Olympic highlights header

Saturday's key events


TRIATHLON
· After silvers in both the men's and women's events, Team GB will be fancied to get on the podium again in the mixed relay (11.30pm-1am)

SWIMMING
· Touted as Michael Phelps's successor, Caeleb Dressel already has two gold medals from these Games and he will be going for a third in the men's 50m butterfly final (2.30am)
· It is Katie Ledecky vs. Ariarne Titmus III in the women's 800m freestyle final, with Ledecky entering as firm favourite (2.46am)
· Great Britain will be heavily fancied to add another gold medal to their swimming haul, having produced by far the fastest qualifying time for the mixed 4x100m medley relay final (3.43am)

ATHLETICS
· Dina Asher-Smith is one of three British women in the 100m semi-finals (3.01am-3.20am), and will hope to challenge for a medal in what is likely to be a star-studded final (1.50pm)
· The inaugural Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event concludes with Great Britain one of the eight finalists going for gold (1.35pm)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB's dreams of an unlikely gold are still alive in the women's event as they face France in their semi-final (3.30am). The winners will face either New Zealand or Fiji in the gold medal match later in the day (10am)

SAILING
· Gold medals are up for grabs in the windsurfer - RS:X finals. Emma Wilson participates for Team GB in the women's final (6.33am), while Tom Squires is in action in the men's (7.33am)

TENNIS
· Following his shock semi-final defeat, ending his hopes of a Golden Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic battles for bronze against Pablo Carreno Busta (7am)
· The women's singles event reaches its conclusion with the gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova

> Today's schedule in full
Todays Game Header Right
EFL Cup
Olympic Games Men's Football
Scottish Premiership
Pre-Season Friendlies
Portuguese Super Cup
Taca da Liga
Scottish Championship
Scottish League One
Scottish League Two
Belgian Pro League
Swiss Super League
Russian Premier League
Ukrainian Premier League
Swedish Allsvenskan
Danish Superliga
Finnish Veikkausliiga
League of Ireland Premier
Belarusian Premier League
2.Bundesliga
Ligue 2
Major League Soccer
Brasileiro
Copa Diego Maradona
Uruguayan Primera Division
Liga MX
Chinese Super League
Tables
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