Tough Valencia test awaits ‘troubled’ Barcelona

MADRID: Barcelona fans will be hoping that some of the dressing room wounds that were exposed this week will have healed by the time the Spanish league leaders play at Valencia tomorrow. 

The Spanish giants have opened up a three-point lead at the top of La Liga but they started the week not by celebrating but instead by having a spectacular bout of public bickering. 

The war of words between coach Frank Rijkaard and Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho on one side and three-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o on the other, essentially about the commitment of the Cameroon striker, appeared to have cooled by Thursday. 

“I don’t think that Samuel’s comments were so serious and he doesn’t need to apologise to the squad,” said Barcelona’s Brazilian defender Belletti. 

“Everyone knows Samuel’s like that. He’s a tough character but he’s also a good team-mate of everyone,” added the hero of the Catalan club’s Champions League triumph in May. 

Nevertheless, Rijkaard must be wishing that he had an easier opponent ahead of him than Valencia, against whom his men can carry on their bonding. 

Barcelona have won three out of their last four visits to the 2002 and 2004 Spanish champions but the games have been uncompromising affairs. 

Valencia have only lost one game at home this season and currently lie fourth in the Spanish First Division.  

They have also been on a roll recently and have won seven out of their last nine games although they did suffer a shock 3-0 defeat at Getafe last Sunday. 

Second-placed Sevilla, who started the year at the top of the table, have floundered badly since the start of the year and will not relish the visit of Atletico Madrid tomorrow. 

The 2006 UEFA Cup winner’s recent struggles have been mirrored by the difficulties suffered by their striker Fredi Kanoute. 

Kanoute is still the Spanish First Division’s leading scorer with 16 goals but may not be by the end of the weekend.  

In the first three months of the season, the French-born Malian international was scoring almost every game but, partly hampered by a groin problem, he has only found the net twice in 2007. 

Real Madrid lie two points further back in third and host Real Betis today. 

After having to eat a double dose of humble pie last weekend, firstly by being forced to recall David Beckham and then having to praise him after the former England captain’s goal at Real Sociedad, Real coach Fabio Capello has no choice but to keep Beckham in a starting role. 

The return of Beckham to the Bernabeu may also tone down the level of abuse that Real’s critical fans have been directing at Capello and his men, although Iker Casillas is not so sure. 

“It’s psychological war in the Bernabeu and Betis could take advantage. We seem to be able to play two good games and then mess up big time,” admitted Spain’s number one goalkeeper on Thursday. 

“Yes, our scoring capacity has declined. You can tell because of our low-scoring matches of late. However, we have improved a lot defensively and what matters is that we’re still up there, fighting for the title.” – AFP  

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