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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 15, 2007

Primera Liga: Barca bid to banish bust-ups

MADRID, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Barcelona's public bust-up and make-up have given the other Primera Liga title contenders a boost ahead of this weekend's matches, with the race for the top spot promising to get even tighter.

The top five are separated by seven points and four of the teams face each other but the problem of dressing room discord is not confined to the champions.

Valencia, fourth with 39 points, have watched with interest as Samuel Eto'o criticised coach Frank Rijkaard and team mate Ronaldinho during the week.

Although there was a public reconciliation, Valencia will hope to profit from any lingering bad feeling when the sides meet in the Mestalla.

'Of course we hope it affects them, and a lot too. I hope it affects them so much that we can score three goals against them on Sunday,' said Valencia defender Roberto Ayala.

But it is far from being all sweetness and light behind the scenes at Valencia with fans awaiting to give their verdict on Ayala's decision to leave to join Villarreal at the end of the season.

The negotiations over Ayala's future revealed splits at the club and midfielder Edu has also broken ranks and said the club's dietary regime contributed to his serious knee injury.

Valencia have lost only once at home while Barca have not won away in the league since a 4-1 win at Real Mallorca on Nov. 19.

Second-placed Sevilla are three points short of Barca and will be looking to get their faltering challenge back on track when they host fifth-placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Juande Ramos's side have managed only one win in their last six league outings and have to factor-in the effects of a tough UEFA Cup trip to Steaua Bucharest on Thursday.

Uruguayan striker Ernesto Chevanton has been rocking the boat in their dressing room over his lack of opportunities. They will be without suspended right back Daniel Alves.

Visiting Atletico, with 39 points, have one of the best away records in the league.

Hoping to make the most of any slips from their rivals are third-placed Real Madrid, on 41 points, who host an improving Real Betis on Saturday.

Betis knocked Real out of the King's Cup last month and have proved themselves resilient opponents in recent matches.

Real's 2-1 win at Real Sociedad steadied their ship last week but after two defeats from the last three league appearances in the Bernabeu the pressure is there to put on a show for the fans.

Real coach Fabio Capello brought David Beckham back in from the cold last weekend and defender Fabio Cannavaro has now asked for him to do the same with another outcast Antonio Cassano.

Brazilian Robinho has added himself to the list of malcontents by sounding off on his bench-warming roll. Fullback Roberto Carlos is fit again after a month out with injury