Battered Barcelona face tricky week

With Barcelona's European dreams hanging in the balance, Spanish leaders must regroup ahead of testing domestic ties.

    Battered Barcelona face tricky week
    Shock resut: Favourites Barcelona were stunned by AC Milan in Wednesday’s match, squandering two goals to the seven-time European champions [AFP]

    Reeling from their loss at AC Milan, Barcelona will host a resurgent Sevilla in Spain’s Primera Division on Saturday needing to quickly regroup in time for their upcoming clash with Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

    Barcelona were beaten 2-0 at San Siro in the European Champions League on Wednesday. Now, Barcelona must use the Sevilla match to fine-tune their attack for Tuesday's semi-final visit by Madrid with the score 1-1 after the first leg.

    Madrid are a distant 16 points behind Barcelona in third place in the league standings and will likely be fully focused on the Copa del Rey when they travel to last-place Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.

    After Tuesday's decisive match, Barcelona and Madrid will then meet again the following weekend at the Bernabeu for a league game that will probably be more about bragging rights than their impact on the title chase with Barcelona most likely still enjoying a double-digit lead over second-place Atletico Madrid.

    Outgunned

    Barcelona were outhustled by Milan and uncharacteristically managed only two shots on target en route to their third loss this campaign.

    Spanish fixtures

    Friday 22 February

    Athletic Bilbo v Real Sociedad

    Saturday 23 February

    Mallorca v Getafe
    Real Zaragoza v Valencia
    Deportivo v Real Madrid
    Barcelona v Sevilla

    Sunday 24 February

    Rayo Vallecano v Valladolid
    Celta de Vigo v Granada
    Alt Madrid v Espanyol
    Real Betis v Malaga

    Monday 25 February

    Levante v Osasuna

    It appears that the wear and tear of playing in three competitions is catching up with Barcelona, who, after storming through the first half of the season, have four wins, three draws and two losses since mid-January.

    "Physically we weren't in top form (against Milan),'' Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas said.

    "They were stronger and caused us a lot of problems. We are Barcelona and we always have to play our best, (but) we didn't play a good game.

    "We have to improve and think about the return leg (in March) and in this coming week which is very important for our season.''

    After being stymied by Milan's tireless defence, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi - unless he gets a rare rest on Saturday - will return to a tournament he has dominated this season with a league-best 37 goals in 24 games. Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo trails Messi with 24 goals.

    Sevilla also have a key Copa del Rey semi-final match to keep in mind as they are set to host Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

    Sevilla will need to overturn a 2-1 loss in the first leg to reach the final. Tenth in the league table, the Copa del Rey is Sevilla's only shot at silverware this season.

    "We know that we have an important game Saturday,'' Sevilla defender Alberto Botia said.

    "We must have a good showing, play well and go out there with our spirits high, not thinking about Wednesday's game (with Atletico). If we play thinking about Wednesday, we run the risk of leaving the pitch with our morale in tatters.''

    Sevilla coach Unai Emery has turned things around since taking over for the fired Michel Gonzalez, as his team have lost only once in their last five league matches. The Andalucian side, however, have yet to play better away from Seville and are on a winless streak of nine straight road games.

    Stronger defence

    Even though Madrid did not have a game midweek, coach Jose Mourinho may also continue to make changes in his starting line-up so his stars arrive fully rested for Barcelona.

    Madrid have tightened up their defence recently and have conceded a league-low five goals in seven games in 2013.

    Fernando Vazquez, Deportivo's third coach this season, will make his home debut at Riazor Stadium with his team eight points from safety.

    Elsewhere on Saturday, an improved Valencia try to break into the top-four and the fight for a Champions League berth as they visit Real Zaragoza, while relegation-threatened Mallorca hosts Getafe.

    Atletico enters the round 12 points behind Barcelona. They host Espanyol on Sunday after facing a critical game to their Europa League title defence on Thursday when they visit Rubin Kazan hoping to fight back from a 2-0 loss in the opening leg.

    Also on Sunday, fourth-place Malaga visit Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano host Valladolid, and Granada are at Celta Vigo.

    Real Sociedad, who have lost only once in the last 14 rounds, visit Athletic Bilbao on Friday in the last Basque derby to be played at San Mames before it is torn down and replaced by a new stadium.

    SOURCE: AP


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