Barcelona suffered a major setback in the title race as they were defeated 1-0 by a resilient Getafe outfit on Saturday evening. Pep Guardiola's side went into the match six points adrift of Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid who had emphatically beaten city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in an engaging derby encounter earlier that evening.
Barcelona appeared to endure a continental hangover after their impressive 3-2 victory against Italian giants AC Milan in a match that became increasingly frustrating for the Barcelona supporter.
Guardiola decided to allocate Lionel Messi as the lone striker, supported by David Villa and Alexis Sanchez on the flanks. Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta were left out of the side altogether as injury precautions.
In truth, it was a rather dull contest with Barcelona looking subdued and lacking their usual flowing rhythm and cohesion. Luis García Plaza had set out his side dexterously; as a strong defensive unit looking to take advantage of Barcelona on swift counter-attacks or when they had committed too many players forward. It was a tactic which worked to great effect as Getafe hassled their opponents who failed on numerous occasions to find that killer ball on the edge of the box.
Messi sent an early freekick inches wide of Miguel Angel Moya's post before being thwarted by the Getafe goalkeeper when the ball was stolen from his feet midway through the first half. Sanchez also went close to scoring but his effort from Dani Alves's clever pull-back was well foiled by Moya. Getafe did show some attacking intent of their own, though, and Miku twice went close to opening the scoring in the first half but could not quite find his shooting boots.
Barcelona emerged from the second half with the words of their manager fresh in their ears and began to attack higher up the pitch but again, the Getafe defence stood firm and continued to repel wave after wave of attack. Sanchez proved a particularly frustrating figure and he was unsurprisingly replaced by Pedro after the hour mark.
Barcelona's vulnerability from set-pieces came back to haunt them in the 67th minute when Juan Valera powered a header past Victor Valdes from Pablo Sarabia's corner to give Los Azulones a shock lead. The former Atletico Madrid midfielder managed to rise above Sergio Busquets and plant the ball into the corner of the net. It was a goal that merited all their hard work defensively as Barcelona had struggled to gain momentum.
Guardiola tried to rally his troops by throwing on Seydou Keita and Isaac Cuenca for Maxwell and the disappointing Thiago Alcantara in the hope of giving his side more attacking options. The substitutions nearly paid dividends 10 minutes from time when Messi converted from Seydou Keita's pass but the goal was dubiously chalked off for offside when Messi had played his initial pass to the Mali midfield man.
Barcelona continued to pour forward in urgency looking for that vital equaliser and they rattled the woodwork in stoppage time when Messi latched onto Pedro's through pass before Moya was then on hand to prevent Pedro's follow-up. It proved to be the final attack of the match as the referee brought the game to an end to signal a famous and quite unlikely victory for Getafe who edge further away from the dreaded relegation places.
Pep Guardiola was left rueing his side's misfortune but he was optimistic about his side's recovery and quality to catch up with Real Madrid in the hunt for a fourth consecutive league title. "They don't hand out the cup now. Luckily for us there is still a long way to go and one of the keys to this team is that they never give up."
Whilst Guardiola is right to silence those critics who already believe that the title is on its way to the Santiago Bernabeu, his side can surely not afford any more slip-ups and it makes the El Clásico encounter in two weeks time an even more thrilling and exhilarating prospect.