Barca meet Villarreal in possible final rehearsal | india | Hindustan Times
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Barca meet Villarreal in possible final rehearsal

The defending champions play Villarreal in a Spanish league match, which could be a rehearsal for next month's Champions League final.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 16:29 IST

FC Barcelona host Villarreal on Friday in a Spanish league match which could be a rehearsal for next month's Champions League final.

Barcelona are 11 points clear going into the game, which has been brought forward 24 hours to allow the clubs extra preparation time for next week's semifinal first legs Europe's top club competition.

Although it only requires a maximum of eight points to retain the title, Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o says the team can't allow itself to be distracted by Tuesday's match with AC Milan in Italy.

"It's still not won. We have a lead, there's six rounds left, but the aim must not be to concentrate only on Europe," Eto'o told Radio Marca on Monday.

Villarreal hope to continue their impressive progress in their Champions League debut this season when they meet Arsenal in London next Wednesday.

Yet the eighth-place team is also hoping for a top-six league finish which would give it a UEFA Cup berth if they don't win the Champions League.

"It's obvious we have an important match against Arsenal but Friday's game is so too. I don't think anyone is thinking more of the Champions League game than the league game," Villarreal striker Jose Mari Romero said.

Barcelona, who have drawn their last three games, will be without forward Lionel Messi, after a recurrence of the right thigh injury which has sidelined him since March 7.

The team will also lack Rafael Marquez, Thiago Motta and long-term casualty Xavi Hernandez, while captain Carles Puyol is suspended.

Ronaldinho, who missed last weekend's draw against Santander with a right thigh injury, is expected to play, together with goalkeeper Victor Valdes and defender Juliano Belletti, who also have injuries.

Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini is expected to rest several players, including key Argentine midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, who spent the 2002-03 season at Barcelona.

Barcelona lead the league with 70 points, followed by Valencia and Real Madrid with 59. Osasuna have 58 points, with Sevilla on 52 and Celta 51.

Valencia, Madrid and Osasuna continue their battle for second place, which would earn a berth in next season's group stages of the Champions League.

Valencia's confidence has risen following two straight wins which have allowed them to overtake Madrid.

"Second place is within reach. It's down to us now. If we can keep this run going we can do it," forward Mario Regueiro said.

On Sunday, Valencia host Espanyol, which on Wednesday crushed Zaragoza 4-1 to win the Copa del Rey for the fourth time.

Espanyol are in 15th position, only two points above the relegation zone. Madrid visit ninth-place Getafe on Sunday, with the club's vice president, Emilio Butragueno, stressing the need for a strong finish to the season.

"We're all worried. It is vital for the club to end as runner-up," Butragueno said. "We must be strong and united for the remaining six matches."

Madrid will be without Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in the last four games. The Brazilian strained his right thigh during last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad, in which he notched his 100th goal for the club.

Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez is suspended, although David Beckham is set to return after recovering from a back problem.

Osasuna will expect to win Sunday's home match against last-place Malaga, who are 10 points from safety and are likely to be relegated.

Other 33rd-round games are: Zaragoza vs. Cadiz; Deportivo La Coruna vs. Sevilla; Real Sociedad vs. Racing Santander; Mallorca vs. Alaves; Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao; Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo.