Ten-man Barcelona's 1-0 victory at
Deportivo La Coruna put them a massive and surely unbeatable 14 points
ahead in the Spanish title race.
Although Rafa Marquez was sent off for a second yellow card early in the
second half as they defended Ludovic Giuly's 10th-minute opener, Frank
Rijkaard's men held on for victory to put pressure on second-placed Real
Madrid are looking set for their second successive season without
silverware as anything less than a good result at home to Malaga on
Sunday would put yet further pressure on coach Wanderley Luxemburgo.
Luxemburgo is set to make changes for that match as the 29-times Spanish
champions have only earned four points in their last five fixtures.
It was Frenchman Giuly's sixth goal of the season for the Catalonian
club in a very lively match.
Following a freekick by Marquez, Deportivo keeper Gustavo Munua punched
it away. Though Barca's Brazilian defender Sylvinho intercepted the ball
in the area, he completely mistimed his shot but Giuly, surging forward
at the far post, got on to the end of it to find the net.
A few minutes before half-time, Deco nearly added a second when his shot
from just outside the area took a flighted deflection on to Munua's
Marquez's marching orders came in the 52nd minute but Barcelona managed
to hold on to their result although undermanned.
Earlier on Saturday, Real Betis took third spot after beating Albacete
2-1 at home and Barcelona's neighbours Espanyol could only draw 2-2 at
home to Real Sociedad.
Meanwhile David Beckham returns after suspension for Madrid on Sunday
but Jose Maria 'Guti' Gutierrez retains his place as a starter thanks to
Danish international Thomas Gravesen notching up five yellow cards in
almost record time.
Gravesen arrived from English Premiership side Everton in the winter
break and has added steel to Real's midfield but has found Spanish
referees keener to caution him for his uncompromising style than their
Beckham's compatriot and fellow England international Michael Owen also
looks set to start with Ronaldo still suffering from pain in his left
thigh after two recent bruising encounters against Juventus and Getafe.
Santiago Solari is set to reap the benefits of his late, spectacular,
goal in last Sunday's 2-1 loss at Getafe and start on the left wing in
place of Luis Figo.
Spanish football league table after Saturday's matches (played, won,
drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):