For the second straight week in league play Barcelona dropped points in the title race, this time thanks to Sunday's 1-1 draw against Levante. While they remain in first place after Atlético Madrid failed to take advantage the the Blaugrana slip, drawing their own match against Sevilla, their archrivals Real Madrid closed the gap yet again, pulling within a single point of the top spot.
So the question needs to be asked, is it time to panic?
The answer is absolutely not and if you're in doubt, just pull out your copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and read the cover.
Barcelona will be fine in the long run and still have a very good shot at winning their 23rd league title. Sunday's draw was more about who was missing from the lineup and what Levante did well, rather than some kind of blaring klaxon alarm preceding impending doom.
Levante were able to take advantage of Dani Alves' absence and create a logjam in the attacking third that Barcelona simply couldn't pass their way through. With little of quality being provided by Pedro and Alexi Sánchez on the wings, Barca's attacked was forced to try to pick its way through the mass of players in the middle of the box.
Another key to Levante's success was goalkeeper Keylor Navas having a fantastic match. The few times Barca were able to unlock the Granotes defense, Navas was there to make a key save. His magical triple save in the second half where he denied Messi twice and Xavi once was an excellent example of that.
While losing Neymar to an ankle injury was a definite blow and he certainly could have helped on Sunday, the real missing piece was fullback, who missed the match with a minor muscle injury. The Brazilian's ability to get forward and bomb in crosses from his right wing stomping grounds helps provide Barca with width and prevents them from getting funneled centrally by a well-organized defense.
Barca are 10-0-1 this season in league play with Alves in the starting lineup and 6-1-2 without him. Their three worst performances of the season — draw vs. Osasuna, loss vs. Athletic Bilbao, draw vs. Levante — all came without Alves in the lineup.
In those 11 games with Alves starting, the Barcelona offense is generating just over 3 goals per game. That number drops to just over 2 goal per game in the nine matches without him starting. Between those numbers and the three matches that the team dropped points, you can quickly determine that Gerardo Martino would rather have his first choice fullback on the pitch, rather than off it.
This is why I told you to not panic. Barring a catastrophic injury to Alves, he's going to play in a majority of games during the second half of the season, especially when the schedule calms down a bit. Barcelona are a better team with him in the lineup and that should make games like the draw against Levante an aberration and not the norm.