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Spanish leader Barcelona aims to emerge from trough

Spanish leader Barcelona aims to emerge from trough

Spanish league leader FC Barcelona has the chance to rediscover its form when it hosts sinking Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Despite being a point clear in the standings, the defending champion is struggling to meet its high standards and has managed just two wins in its past seven league matches.
"We're going through a difficult stage," Ronaldinho said. "I can't be happy because neither the team nor myself are at our best."
But Celta is in much worse shape, lacking a league victory for over two months and plummeting toward the relegation zone.
In the continued absence of injured forward Samuel Eto'o, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard must choose between Javier Saviola and Eidur Gudjohnsen for the striking role.
Saviola has scored seven times in the last five league and Copa del Rey games but drew a blank in Wednesday's 1-1 draw at struggling Real Betis and was replaced by Gudjohnsen after an hour.
At the season's halfway mark of 19 games, Barcelona has 39 points, while Sevilla and Real Madrid each have 38. Valencia follows on 36, one more than Atletico Madrid.
Sevilla will be confident of gaining its first league win of 2007 when it visits lowly Levante on Sunday.
The team, whose outstanding form last year brought it the UEFA Cup and made it a frontrunner for a first league title for 60 years, has gained one point from a possible nine since the turn of the year.
"Coaches can't choose the time to lose but teams go through bad spells. If we have to lose, the best time is now because we're still in a good position. Things get decided in the final months of competition," Sevilla coach Juande Ramos said.
Ramos has been boosted by the early return of left winger Adriano, who dislocated his right shoulder during last weekend's draw at Villarreal.
Real Madrid maintained its title challenge with a gritty 1-0 win at Mallorca last Sunday.
The 29-time champion hopes to make it eight wins from 11 away games on Saturday when it visits 11th-place Villarreal.
Madrid coach Fabio Capello is again expected to leave David Beckham off the squad, while the team's other outcast, Ronaldo, seems set to join AC Milan before the end of January's transfer window next Wednesday.
Beckham, who will join MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy in August, hasn't been picked for Madrid since Dec. 21. Ronaldo last appeared on Jan. 7.
Madrid will also be without injured captain Raul Gonzalez, Brazilian left-backs Roberto Carlos and Marcelo, right-back Cicinho, and midfielder Emerson.
In addition, right-back Sergio Ramos is doubtful.
Villarreal's inconsistency has continued in 2007, with a win, a draw and a defeat in the league. It has also been eliminated from the Copa del Rey by second-division Valladolid.
Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who has been dropped for Villarreal's recent games amid reported differences with coach Manuel Pellegrini, is expected to watch the match from the stand.
Valencia will seek to maintain its winning run on Sunday when it visits Betis.
The 2002 and 2004 champion has had an uneven campaign. It went unbeaten in its opening five matches, then sank into a six-game winless streak but has now won its last six matches.
"We have to look at the overall situation. A month ago we could never have imagined this. It's exciting to finish the first half of the season with a chance to win the league," captain David Albelda said.
Fifth-place Atletico, which hosts No. 12 Racing Santander on Saturday, owes its improvement this season to its good defensive work.
Despite the recent injury absence of goalkeeper Leo Franco, Atletico has conceded only 13 goals so far.
The team has bettered this figure only twice _ in the 1990-91 season when it finished second and five years later when it won the league and Cup double.


Updated : 2021-07-31 23:05 GMT+08:00