Barcelona aiming to regroup after loss to AC Milan

JOSEPH WILSON Associated Press Published:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Reeling from its loss at AC Milan, Barcelona will host a resurgent Sevilla in the Spanish league on Saturday needing to quickly regroup in time for its upcoming clash with Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona was beaten 2-0 at San Siro in the Champions League on Wednesday. Now, Barcelona must use the Sevilla match to fine-tune its attack for Tuesday's semifinal visit by Madrid with the score 1-1 after the first leg.

Madrid is a distant 16 points behind Barcelona in third place in the league standings and will likely be fully focused on the Copa del Rey when it travels to last-place Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.

After Tuesday's decisive match, Barcelona and Madrid will then meet again the following weekend at the Bernabeu for a league game that will probably be more about bragging rights than its impact on the title chase with Barcelona most likely still enjoying a double-digit lead over second-place Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona was outhustled by Milan and uncharacteristically managed only two shots on target en route to its third loss this campaign.

It appears that the wear and tear of playing in three competitions is catching up with Barcelona, which, after storming through the first half of the season, has four wins, three draws and two losses since mid-January.

"Physically we weren't in top form (against Milan)," Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "They were stronger and caused us a lot of problems. We are Barcelona and we always have to play our best, (but) we didn't play a good game.

"We have to improve and think about the return leg (in March) and in this coming week which is very important for our season."

After being stymied by Milan's tireless defense, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi-- unless he gets a rare rest on Saturday-- will return to a tournament he has dominated this season with a league-best 37 goals in 24 games. Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo trails Messi with 24 goals.

Sevilla also has a key Copa del Rey semifinal match to keep in mind as it is set to host Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Sevilla will need to overturn a 2-1 loss in the first leg to reach the final. Tenth in the league table, the Copa del Rey is Sevilla's only shot at silverware this season.

"We know that we have an important game Saturday," Sevilla defender Alberto Botia said. "We must have a good showing, play well and go out there with our spirits high, not thinking about Wednesday's game (with Atletico). If we play thinking about Wednesday, we run the risk of leaving the pitch with our morale in tatters."

Sevilla coach Unai Emery has turned things around since taking over for the fired Michel Gonzalez, as his team has lost only once in its last five league matches. The Andalucian side, however, has yet to play better away from Seville and is on a winless streak of nine straight road games.

Even though Madrid did not have a game midweek, coach Jose Mourinho may also continue to make changes in his starting lineup so his stars arrive fully rested for Barcelona.

Madrid has tightened up its defense recently and has conceded a league-low five goals in seven games in 2013.

Fernando Vazquez, Deportivo's third coach this season, will make his home debut at Riazor Stadium with his team eight points from safety.

Elsewhere Saturday, an improved Valencia tries to break into the top-four and the fight for a Champions League berth as it visits Real Zaragoza, while relegation-threatened Mallorca hosts Getafe.

Atletico enters the round 12 points behind Barcelona. It hosts Espanyol on Sunday after facing a critical game to its Europa League title defense on Thursday when its visits Rubin Kazan hoping to fight back from a 2-0 loss in the opening leg.

Also Sunday, fourth-place Malaga visits Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano hosts Valladolid, and Granada is at Celta Vigo.

Real Sociedad, which has lost only once in the last 14 rounds, visits Athletic Bilbao on Friday in the last Basque derby to be played at San Mames before it is torn down and replaced by a new stadium.