Barca seek to bounce back

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BARCELONA, April 30 – Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has his work cut out to lift his players for a crucial La Liga trip to Villarreal after their Champions League semi-final elimination.Barca go into the final four games of the season with a one-point advantage over bitter rivals Real Madrid but their morale is at low ebb after the team went out on aggregate to Inter Milan on Wednesday.

"We now have to pick ourselves up, get ourselves right psychologically and plan for Saturday’s game," said Guardiola.

"We have not had a long time to prepare but now we have to concentrate on finishing the season well."

President Joan Laporta went down to visit the players after training to give them his support.

"To win the league we must now win the four games and we are going to do it," Laporta said.

"While it is easy to say it, you win the league on the pitch and we will have to give everything in order to achieve it. We are best placed but we now have to raise the spirits of the players."

Villarreal will pose a tough test as they have rediscovered their form under coach Juan Carlos Garrido and are pushing for a place in Europe.

Midfielder Xavi Hernandez is the main injury doubt for Barca after picking up a calf strain.

Real, who play Osasuna, are ready waiting to pounce if the Catalan side do drop points and Cristiano Ronaldo is confident that there will be more twists and turns before the end of the season.

"There will be some surprises with Barcelona having to play against Villarreal and Sevilla. I hope that we can move above them and so I could be a champion this year," he said.

Third-placed Valencia have a tough away match at Espanyol but the real fight is taking place below them for the final Champions League position.

Inconsistency from both Mallorca and Sevilla means the battle is wide open. Last weekend Mallorca could only draw at home to struggling Malaga while Sevilla crashed away at Getafe.

Now Mallorca travel to Athletic Bilbao while Sevilla face Atletico Madrid, and both must be wary of the threat from Villarreal moving up behind.

Getafe’s win over Sevilla means that they too have a European place in their sights but they now have to overcome a difficult test against third-from-bottom Valladolid who are enjoying a remarkable recovery under new coach Javier Clemente.

Only a few weeks ago their performances suggested that they were already resigned to relegation but now under Clemente they have picked up eight points from a possible 12 and are unbeaten in four games.

Valladolid are level on points with Tenerife, who after back-to-back wins slumped away at Atletico Madrid and now take on Racing Santander.

Bottom side Xerez also haven’t given up the ghost but last weekend’s defeat by Barcelona leaves them seven points from safety.

They now face a crunch game against Almeria who themselves need the points as a poor run of late has left them looking anxiously over their shoulders.

Also in the thick of the dogfight are Zaragoza and Malaga who play Sporting Gijon and Deportivo la Coruna respectively.

Fixtures

Saturday (1600 GMT unless stated)

Tenerife v Racing Santander, Malaga v Sporting Gijon, Valladolid v Getafe, Xerez v Almeria, Deportivo la Coruna v Zaragoza, Espanyol v Valencia (1800), Villarreal v Barcelona (2000)

Sunday

Sevilla v Atletico Madrid (1500), Real Madrid v Osasuna (1700), Athletic Bilbao v Mallorca (1900)

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