La Liga: Barca's squad depth to be tested

November 16, 2006

MADRID, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The strength in depth of Barcelona's squad is set to be tested away to Real Mallorca on Sunday, and over the next few weeks, as they look to overcome a spate of injuries to key players.

Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o was joined on the sidelines during the week by Argentine forwards Javier Saviola and Lionel Messi, leaving the Primera Liga leaders looking distinctly stretched up front.

Frank Rijkaard has one fit out-and-out striker in Eidur Gudjohnsen to use between now and the midseason break.

The Icelander, along with playmaker Ronaldinho, will have to shoulder the goalscoring burden in the league and in the tricky business of qualifying for the next stage of the Champions League.

While the Spanish press has been full of stories about possible emergency recruits in the January sales, the club and the players believe they have the squad to cope.

'The truth is we are happy with what we have. We have to prove we not only have the best players but that we also have the best squad,' said Brazilian defender Silvinho.

A trip to face 11th-placed Mallorca may not sound like the toughest of challenges on paper but Gregorio Manzano's side have the tightest defence in the league with only six goals conceded in 10 outings.

Barca have midfielder Thiago Motta suspended, and will be without the injured Juliano Belletti and Edmilson. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are also injury doubts.

A point below Barca in the standings are second-placed Sevilla, who host sixth-placed Valencia on Saturday.

Sevilla were knocked off the top of the table last weekend after putting in an uncharacteristically weak display to draw 0-0 at Racing Santander.

The loss of livewire winger Jesus Navas to injury seems to have taken some steam out of their impressive start to the season.

Valencia have also struggled of late with injuries to the likes of Carlos Marchena, David Albelda, Jaime Gavilan and Emiliano Moretti starting to bite.

Quique Sanchez Flores's side have won only once in their last five league matches.

Real Madrid are three points adrift of Barca in third and play Racing Santander in the Bernabeu, also on Saturday.

Other notable games at the weekend include a Galician derby between Deportivo Coruna and Celta Vigo on Sunday, and a bottom of the table clash between Real Sociedad, without a win all season, and third-from-bottom Real Betis.