Barcelona seeks return to form against Xerez

Barcelona seeks return to form against Xerez

Published Apr. 22, 2010 2:48 p.m. ET

Spanish league leader Barcelona must bounce back from its midweek European defeat when it hosts Xerez on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola's team lost 3-1 to Inter in the San Siro in the first leg of its Champions League semifinal. It was the first time Barca has lost by more than a one-goal margin under the coach since he took charge in 2008.

On paper, Saturday's league fixture offers the perfect chance for the Catalan side to restore morale and maintain their lead over second-place Real Madrid, which is one point behind on 83 points. Xerez is bottom of the standings with only six wins all season.

While the Andalusians might not represent an obvious threat to the league and European champions, the game should make clear whether Guardiola's squad has peaked too soon. Last Saturday, mid-table Espanyol held Barcelona to a goalless draw in the Catalan derby. The lack of attacking spark in that game was repeated against Inter.

"We all know it's difficult. Very few teams have managed to get points (in the Camp Nou)," said Xerez's Victor Sanchez, a former Barcelona youth team player. "It's difficult but not impossible. If we play a serious game and don't let them settle, I think we can hurt them."

Injured midfielder Andres Iniesta has been Barcelona's only absentee from training this week.

With five rounds left of the season, Real Madrid knows it needs to maintain its winning league form and for Barcelona to drop points. Madrid visits Zaragoza on Saturday having won 14 of its last 15 league games, the only slip-up being a 2-0 loss to Barcelona in the clasico.

"Is the league race still alive? Of course it is," Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo said. "I'm confident we'll win the five games remaining and that we'll win the title."

Brazil playmaker Kaka could feature for Madrid for the first time since the team's Champions League elimination at the hands of Lyon on March 10. He has been recovering from a persistent groin problem, which appears to have been a factor in his failure to make a significant impact at the Bernabeu since a 65 million euro ($87 million) move from Milan last summer.

"He looks well," Ronaldo said of his teammate. "I'm happy for him because he's a friend and a great professional."

On Thursday, also Kaka's 28th birthday, he trained with the rest of the squad, along with striker Raul Gonzalez and defenders Christoph Metzelder and Raul Albiol, who are also returning from injuries.

Also Saturday, Valencia hosts Deportivo La Coruna.

Fourth-place Mallorca will seek to consolidate its Champions League credentials when it hosts Malaga on Sunday. Mallorca has built up a formidable record at its Ono Estadi this season, winning 14 out of 16 league games there. Malaga, in 17th place, is fighting to avoid relegation.

On Sunday, it's: Sporting Gijon vs. Valladolid; Racing Santander vs. Villarreal; Almeria vs. Espanyol; Atletico Madrid vs. Tenerife; and Getafe vs. Sevilla.

On Monday, Osasuna hosts Athletic Bilbao.