Barca aim to spoil title party with Bernabeu trip

May 5, 2008

MADRID, May 5 (Reuters) - Barcelona will have to ignore the taunts and celebrations going on around them when they visit newly crowned champions Real Madrid on Wednesday, seeking to secure automatic Champions League qualification.

Frank Rijkaard's side will be required to applaud their arch-rivals on to the pitch at the Bernabeu after Real secured their 31st league title with a 2-1 victory away at Osasuna on Sunday.

The Catalans are four points adrift of second-placed Villarreal with three games left to play and still have work to do to avoid playing a qualifier to make Europe's elite club competition. They were knocked out of the semi-finals of this season's tournament by Manchester United last week.

They need to build on Sunday's 6-0 hammering of Valencia if they are to play the role of party-poopers and maintain hopes of overhauling Manuel Pellegrini's team.

'Securing a win like this gives us a morale boost and is the best preparation for a trip to the Bernabeu,' Barca's Lionel Messi said after the demolition of Valencia.

'There aren't many games left and we are already thinking about next season. When you don't win anything you are keen for the next campaign to start.'

Barca will travel without striker Samuel Eto'o and midfielder Deco who are suspended, while Real will also be deprived of a key figure in centre back Fabio Cannavaro, who was sent off in Pamplona.

Villarreal visit relegation-threatened Recreativo Huelva, who have 40 points, on the back of a three-game winning streak.

Atletico Madrid continue to lead the race for fourth spot and the last Champions League qualification place on 58 points.

They visit free-falling Espanyol on Thursday while their closest pursuers Racing Santander (56) and Sevilla (55) meet at the Sardinero on Wednesday.

At the foot of the standings, Levante and Real Murcia have been relegated but 18th-placed Osasuna (40) are only two points short of Getafe, Real Valladolid and Valencia.

One of the biggest games of the round involves two sides tipped as potential title challengers back in August, fighting to avoid the drop.

King's Cup winners Valencia (42) have the worst home record in the league and have suffered five defeats in their last six outings.

'The team switched off and were already thinking of Wednesday,' Valencia's Ruben Baraja said after the Barca defeat.

Real Zaragoza (41) have the second worst away record but are unbeaten in their last four.