BARCELONA host Real Mallorca tonight in what the papers are dubbing the battle for the last UEFA Cup spot even though neither team currently occupies the sixth place that sees automatic qualification into Europe's second most important competition. Mallorca slipped to ninth last weekend after a 3-1 defeat to title hopefuls Real Sociedad, but victories over Real Madrid and Deportivo are still fresh in their minds and the scalp of another of Spain's elite teams will be their aim today. Barcelona, for their part, have made steady progress since Raddy Antic replaced Louis van Gaal a few months ago.
The Catalan giants have moved up to seventh although last weekend's 0-0 draw with Seville halted their charge somewhat.
Mallorca will be without leading scorer Walter Pandiani, who injured his knee in training last week, but welcome back winger Albert Riera. The youngster was sorely missed against Real Sociedad and his probing runs down the left wing will test a Barça defence missing Frank De Boer and Carlos Puyol through suspension. Mallorca coach Gregorio Manzano is likely to persist with Leo Biagini as replacement for Pandiani, despite the Argentine's poor showing against Real Sociedad last weekend. Barça's make-shift back four will also come under attack from Samuel Eto'o, Mallorca's Cameroon striker who is enjoying the form of his life. A goal from Eto'o tonight will mean the 22 year-old has scored in each of the last six matches, a record for any Mallorca player. Mallorca will be without regular 'keeper Leo Franco who has returned to Argentina after the death of his mother. Franco will be replaced by second-string keeper Miki Garros. Another change from last week's team will be that of Miguel Angel Nadal who returns from long-term injury as cover for the suspended Fernando Niño. Nadal played for Barça from 1991 to 1999 and will relish a return to his old stomping ground. Mallorca will be aiming to make amends for their match against Barça at Son Moix earlier in the season when they went down 4-0, mainly due to two silly red cards in the first half.
The players are really up for this game, said Manzano yesterday.
We're going to Camp Nou to win three points and although we know it will be difficult we also know we can beat them there.
Valdés; Gabri, Christanval, Andersson, Sorín; Mendieta, Cocu, Gerard, Luis Enrique; Saviola, Kluivert.