Barca loss to Espanyol means slump continues

January 14, 2007

MADRID, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Barcelona wasted a chance to go top of the Primera Liga by slumping to a 3-1 defeat at city rivals Espanyol on Saturday.

Luis Garcia put Espanyol ahead in the 31st minute and, although substitute Javier Saviola levelled early in the second half, Barca were always on the rack.

Raul Tamudo headed the home side back in front after 65 minutes and Francisco Rufete made it three near the end after his team mates had missed a host of opportunities to add to the score.

'It is a wake-up call for us,' coach Frank Rijkaard told reporters after Barca extended their sequence to three league matches without a win.

Rijkaard's team remain second on 35 points, two adrift of leaders Sevilla who host struggling Real Mallorca on Sunday.

Earlier, in-form Valencia climbed to third on 33 points with a 3-0 win over local rivals Levante.

Portuguese midfielder Hugo Viana put Valencia on course for their fifth successive victory with a low shot from outside the area in the 52nd minute.

Four minutes later striker Fernando Morientes swept home David Silva's miscued cross-shot at the far post and 10 minutes from time Argentine defender Roberto Ayala headed the third from a free kick.

Barcelona dominated possession in a typically frantic opening against Espanyol and had the first clear chance when Ronaldinho's dipping free kick was tipped on to the crossbar by Carlos Kameni.

But the home side's rapid counter-attacks constantly unsettled Barca.

After 29 minutes playmaker Ivan de la Pena's defence-splitting pass set Rufete through on goal and he forced Victor Valdes into a fingertip save.

Valdes could not stop Luis Garcia a minute later after Tamudo beat Carles Puyol on the left and crossed for the striker to sweep the ball home.

Rijkaard brought Argentine Saviola on at halftime and within 15 minutes he equalised with a jinking run and fierce shot from outside the area.

Espanyol restored their lead when Sergio Garcia crossed from the right for the unmarked Tamudo to stoop and head home from close range.

The hosts then brought on substitute Walter Pandiani, the Uruguayan striker shooting wide in a one-on-one situation and heading against the bar as Barca were run ragged.

In the final minute Luis Garcia led a three-on-one breakaway before crossing for Rufete to score at the far post.