Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 19 News List

LFP: Barca star Xavi says teammates need to toughen up

FIGHTING TALK A different mentality with more aggression is what Frank Rijkaard's side need, according to their Spanish international midfielder

AFP , MADRID

Barcelona midfielder Xavi Fernandez has called for his teammates to toughen up mentally as they bid to wrestle the title away from Real Madrid.

Barcelona lost 2-0 at Getafe last time out and their away form -- just six points from 18 -- is concerning everyone at the club.

"We need to occupy the midfield better and cover when we are defending especially away from home," explained Xavi, who scored Spain's only goal in the 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in midweek.

"We have to change our mentality and be more aggressive, more practical and get better results," he said.

Barcelona host third from bottom Recreativo Huelva today but coach Frank Rijkaard, who got the dreaded vote of confidence in midweek, knows the biggest challenge is reproducing their home form on their travels.

"We are not in a crisis," Rijkaard said. "It is just that we can't produce the same level of consistency away from home."

Barca trail Real by four points and the champions will be keen to gain the psychological advantage of occupying top spot heading into the New Year.

Despite failing to be totally convincing reigning champions Real have collected 28 points from 12 outings and are expected to notch another three points today when they travel to Murcia.

Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has six goals in nine starts, is a doubt for Real after sustaining an injury on international duty with the Netherlands.

Javier Saviola or Gonzalo Higuain are possible replacements for van Nistelrooy while wideman Arjen Robben is back in contention after coming through training unscathed.

Villarreal, who host Almeria tomorrow, are the surprise package this season and sit just a point behind Real with an impressive nine wins from 12 matches.

The performances of "the Yellow Submarine" have not gone unnoticed and their coach Manuel Pellegrini hinted that he may jump ship but emphasized that money was not the determining factor.

"I honestly don't know about my future," Pellegrini said. "I have had several offers but I have always given Villarreal the priority. Money is not my top priority."

Valencia, four points behind the leaders in fourth, are an outside bet for the title and new coach Ronald Koeman hopes to build on his debut 3-0 win over Real Murcia with another victory at Racing Santander tomorrow.

With the highly-rated Argentine Ezequiel Garay marshalling the back four Racing have the meanest defense in the league conceding just nine goals although they have scored just 10.

Elsewhere Sevilla want to bounce back from their painful 3-2 defeat to Villarreal when they entertain Real Mallorca today.

Sevilla, third last season, are beginning to find their feet after losing coach Juande Ramos to Spurs but their hopes of challenging for the title, something they did for a large part of last season, look a distant dream with Real already 13 points ahead of them.

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