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Real Madrid are top of the class

Power Rankings about an hour ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 27, 2006

Barca eager to bounce back after Copa slip

MADRID, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Barcelona's 18-match winning run came to an abrupt end with their shock 4-2 defeat at the hands of Real Zaragoza in the Copa Del Rey on Thursday.

But the Catalans are determined to show that their first defeat in 25 games was a mere temporary slip-up and that normal service will be resumed when they make the trip to relegation-threatened Real Mallorca in the league on Sunday.

'It's obviously time to learn from our mistakes,' coach Frank Rijkaard said after the Zaragoza match. 'We aren't happy with this defeat but we have to get back to work and prepare ourselves to win the next match.

'We lost the ball too easily when we went on the attack and we clearly have to pay more attention at the back,' he added.

Rijkaard's decision to rest inspirational defender Carles Puyol, winger Ludovic Giuly and first-choice keeper Victor Valdes backfired as his side shipped three goals in the space of five first-half minutes, but the two away goals give them some hope of turning the game around in next week's second leg.

'We are a little worried about this result as it is a long time since we conceded four goals,' said defender Edmilson. 'But we are determined to improve and we have to ensure we beat Mallorca on Sunday.'

Barca can, however, take heart from the fact that they enjoy a 10-point cushion at the top of the Primera Liga and that opponents Mallorca have not won in their last six outings in the league.

They will be further boosted by the return of influential midfielder Deco after suspension, although once again they will have to make do without leading striker Samuel Eto'o who is on duty for Cameroon at the African Nations Cup.

While Barca have been left smarting after their first defeat in four months, there is a new wave of optimism at arch-rivals Real Madrid ahead of their game at Celta Vigo.

Although they trail Barca by 13 points in the league, Real are on a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions and claimed their place in the semi-finals of the Cup with a comfortable 2-0 aggregate win over holders Real Betis.

'The team is getting better all the time at both a collective and individual level,' Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro said after Wednesday's Cup win.

'Everyone is full of enthusiasm, but at the same time we've got our feet on the ground. We've taken some important steps forward, but we've still got a long battle ahead of us.'

Lopez Caro's comments were echoed by midfielder Zinedine Zidane who believes that the team can bounce back from their poor start to challenge for the honours this season.

'We are training well and we are playing well,' he said. 'We've improved in every aspect. We are like a different team and if we carry on like this we are going to win something.'

Celta are in seventh-place in the table, just three points adrift of Real and beat their opponents 3-2 at the Bernabeu earlier this season although they may have to do without leading striker Fernando Baiano who has an ankle injury.

Second-placed Valencia will also face a tricky test when they host Zaragoza at the Mestalla on Sunday, while third-placed Osasuna will be anxious to bounce back from a three-match winless run when they entertain struggling Betis.