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Barca at Real Madrid's mercy now, says Guardiola

Updated: 2012-02-13 08:06
( China Daily)

 Barca at Real Madrid's mercy now, says Guardiola

Barcelona's Argentinian forward, Lionel Messi, reacts during the Spanish league match against Osasuna at Reyno de Navarra stadium in Pamplona on Saturday. Osasuna won 3-2. Rafa Rivas / Agence France-Presse

MADRID - Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola admitted his side's sinking hopes of hanging onto its La Liga crown were at the mercy of bitter rival Real Madrid following Saturday's shock 3-2 defeat at Osasuna.

The loss left Real with the chance to open up a 10-point gap at the top if Jose Mourinho's side beats Levante on Sunday.

"Win the title? Well, we will try to defend our Champions League crown and then attempt to negotiate each match in La Liga," said Guardiola on a freezing night in Pamplona.

"We will see what happens. But we are a significant distance behind, which I guess will increase on Sunday. The league will be more difficult for us now.

"In the second half tonight we did well on this pitch but we should have done better in the first half. It was hard for us to get into this game but we have to congratulate Osasuna."

The reigning La Liga and Champions League winner has struggled on its travels this season with just four wins and succumbed to its second defeat on Saturday.

A double from Dejan Lekic put Osasuna in a commanding position before the break and while Alexis Sanchez reduced the arrears after 50 minutes, a clinical finish from Raul Garcia restored the two-goal cushion.

Substitute Cristian Tello hit Barca's second and there were chances at either end in the final stages, but Osasuna held on.

While Barca struggle, Real continues to roll over its opposition, having won 18 of 21 games, scoring 71 goals in the process, eight more than the champion.

Guardiola continued to put his faith in youth against Osasuna and left Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas on the bench with possibly their midweek Champions League match with Bayer Leverkusen in mind.

Sergio Busquets was also absent through injury, and the Catalan side lacked its normal fluidity on a bumpy pitch.

A double from Lekic put Osasuna in a commanding position before the break with only a shot from distance by Lionel Messi, tipped over by the keeper Andres Fernandez, offered in response.

Barca started the second half strongly and after five minutes substitute Juan Cuenca crossed for Sanchez to reduce the arrears.

But just as the visitors appeared to be turning the game around, Garcia restored the two-goal cushion with a clinical finish off the post.

Barca had more of the ball and another substitute, Tello, fired in their second, which beat the keeper at his near post.

In the final stages, Francisco Punal hit the post for the home side while Sanchez had a goal ruled out for offside.

Despite Barcelona's problems, Real Madrid coach Mourinho feels the title contest will not be decided any time soon.

"February is possibly more difficult for us than Barcelona as we take on Levante, Racing (Santander), who are improving, Rayo (Vallecano), without doubt the surprise package this season, and then Espanyol, who are fighting for a place in Europe," he said.

"Levante are a good side and not just for the fact they have beaten Barcelona but also for where they are in the table. In October and November everyone thought they would run out of steam."

Earlier, a series of spurned chances saw Atletico Madrid draw 0-0 at struggling Racing Santander but the revival under Diego Simeone continued as it pushes for a place in Europe.

Atletico is now in sixth place while it is unbeaten in six games and yet to concede a goal under the new Argentine coach although this was its second consecutive goalless stalemate.

It is a point above Athletic Bilbao who lost 2-1 away to Real Betis after conceding an injury-time strike from Nelson.

Ruben Castro put the home side ahead after 10 minutes but Athletic drew level with Javi Martinez heading home after being left unmarked at a corner.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 02/13/2012 page23)

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