First Division - Day Thirty Four

Barcelona 2 - Sevilla 0

Barcelona: Hesp; Puyol, Frank De Boer, Reiziger; Gabri (Bogarde 80'), Guardiola, Cocu (Dani 46'); Rivaldo (Litmanen 55'); Figo, Kluivert, Zenden. 3-3-1-3.
Sevilla: Olsen; Héctor, Marchena, Hibic, Nando; Jesuli, Víctor, Angel, Juric (Quevedo 85'); Tsartas; Juan Carlos (Otero 60'). 4-4-1-1.

Team changes: Barcelona: Puyol, Guardiola, Gabri, Kluivert, Zenden for Déhu, Sergi, Xavi, Litmanen, Dani / Sevilla: Jesuli for Zalayeta.

1-0. 20. Kluivert. Ball fell to him in penalty area after Marchena tackled Figo.
2-0. 91. Litmanen. First time shot after Kluivert pulled ball back from by-line.

After their midweek fight-back against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final second leg, Barcelona's mini-crisis appears to be over. Following defeat in their first leg match, their season appeared to be falling apart, with league defeats against Mallorca and Oviedo and a 3-0 loss against Atlético Madrid in the cup in only eight days. However the victory midweek has kick-started their season back on-line, and although they were not at their best, they managed a comfortable win against the league's bottom side. Van Gaal decided to stick to the same eleven players, and the same formation, as played against Chelsea, with Rivaldo playing in his favourite position behind the attack (the match had in fact been brought forward an hour or so to allow the Brazilian star time to catch his flight for Brazil's world cup qualifier midweek). Sevilla's caretaker manager Juan Carlos Alvarez only made one change from last week's team, bringing in talented youngster Jesuli for Zalayeta in a more conservative line up. Jesuli has been one of the names on many scouts' lists for next season, including Barcelona's, and he made his mark early with a shot in the first minute and a cross for Juan Carlos a few minutes later. In fact Juan Carlos could have given an early surprise to the league champions if he had done better with that chance and with a header ten minutes later, but he was off target with both. A couple of minutes later Barcelona were ahead with an opportunist goal from Kluivert after the ball fell at his feet after Marchena's tackle on Figo, and Sevilla's resistance ended. Rivaldo almost added to the lead with a clever chip which just cleared Olsen's goal shortly before half time. Van Gaal made two early substitutions, replacing the limping Cocu with Dani at half time, and, presumably getting traffic reports that the roads to Barcelona airport were congested, releasing Rivaldo ten minutes later to catch his plane. The introduction of Litmanen in his place gave a new sparkle to a game that was going to sleep, and after Figo hit a post the Finnish forward did the same after his shot was deflected by a defender. A minute from time Litmanen got his reward, scoring only his third of the season after Kluivert laid the ball back to him in the penalty area. With the new defeat Alvarez finally accepted that his team had both feet in the second division, and planning has already started for the new season. A new manager Joaquín Caparrós has already been signed on, with Alvarez probably returning to the technical staff. Barcelona keep up the pressure on Deportivo at the top, although they must realistically win all four remaining matches if they are to have a chance of dislodging the Gallicians. They now have another problem this week, whether to abandon the cup semi-final or not. See our later reports for how it turns out. Van Gaal complained about the number of matches, saying his players were like squeezed lemons. Reminds me of the story of the drunk who walked in to a bar 'excuse me, do lemons have legs? No said the barman, why? Oh, then I've just squeezed your canary into my drink'. (Sorry, it's an old one, but I couldn't resist...).

Remaining matches: Barcelona: Atlético (A), Rayo (H), Real Sociedad (A), Celta (H)
Sevilla: Oviedo (H), Mallorca (H), Atlético (A), Rayo (H)

Numancia 1 - Zaragoza 2

Numancia: Nuñez; Jaume (Barbu 46'), Muñiz, Iván Rocha, Octavio; Iñaki, Nagore, Pacheta, Caco Morán; Chispa Delgado (Rubén Navarro 35'), Ojeda (Rivera 80'). 4-4-2.
Zaragoza: Juanmi; Sundgren, Paco, Aguado, Lanna; Vellisca (Cuartero 94'), Acuña, Marcos Vales (José Ignacio 70'), Garitano; Yordi, Milosevic. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Numancia: Jaume, Pacheta for Soria, Castaño / Zaragoza: Vellisca, Marcos Vales, Acuña for Juanele, Aragón, Helguera.

0-1. 01. Rocha (own goal). Headed past keeper after Yordi headed on throw in.
0-2. 06. Yordi. Headed in pass from Vellisca at close range.
1-2. 45. Rocha (penalty). After Rubén Navarro sandwiched by Aguado and Paco.

Zaragoza kept up their pressure on the top teams with a hard fought victory against rapidly failing Numancia. Both teams needed desperately to win this match, with Zaragoza losing ground last week after being beaten by Real Madrid, and Numancia sliding perilously closer to the relegation zone after failing to win in their last three games. Their manager Andoni Goikoetxea could at least count on his inspirational midfielder Pacheta, who had been missing for the last month with an injury, although he was without two players once again through suspension, this time Soria and Castaño. Txetxu Rojo was also missing Helguera for the same reason, and he decided to change three of his four midfielders for this match, with Acuña returning after his one match forced absence. Yordi kept his place up front alongside a Milosevic who has not scored in seven games, and the young striker justified his inclusion right from the start, getting involved in the first two goals within the first six minutes of the match. As early as the first minute Zaragoaza won a throw in on the left, and Yordi headed goalwards. Iván Rocha tried to turn the ball out, or maybe he was thinking of laying the ball back for his keeper Nuñez, but whatever the case he was way off mark as he connected high up with the ball and placed it in to his own goal. Five minutes later Yordi bustled a pass from Vellisca past Nuñez with his head, and Numancia were reeling. The pitch was becoming unplayable, with the constant rain turning the game into water-polo, and pools of water forming on the pitch. Ten minutes before half time Numancia striker Chispa Delgado was forced to go off with an injury, and on came Rubén Navarro, still their top goalscorer despite missing half the season through injury. Just before the break the young striker won a penalty after referee López Nieto ruled that he had been pushed by Paco. This was the third penalty in a row that López Nieto has awarded against Zaragoza, and this one was strongly protested by the visiting players. Iván Rocha went part way to making amends for his earlier slip by scoring from the spot. At half time Goiko brought on forward Romanian Barbu for defender Jaume and Numancia went on the attack, with long balls being fired into the area time and time again. The pressure appeared to have paid off when Caco Morán forced the ball into the net, but López Nieto disallowed the goal for dangerous play on Juanmi. Zaragoza closed in the wagons, and Juanmi was called on to make a good save from a header from Morán near the end. The victory takes Zaragoza back above Real Madrid into third place, which could be important in the albeit unlikely event that Valencia win the Champions League. In that case only the top three in the league will qualify for next year's competition, as the champion automatically qualifies and there is a maximum of four from any one country. Numancia are now in trouble, and although their run in to the end of the season is easier than most of their rivals, they need to restore confidence to be sure of staying up. It could all boil down to their last match at home to Betis. In that case, their 1-2 victory earlier in the season against them could also play a part. Watch this space.

Remaining matches: Numancia: Racing (A), Espanyol (H), Alavés (A), Betis (H)
Zaragoza: Bilbao (H), Deportivo (A), Málaga (H), Valencia (A)

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