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Barca bank on Ronaldinho

January 31, 2008 16:37 IST

Barcelona are hoping the return of Ronaldinho for Sunday's league match at home to Osasuna will reinvigorate their fading title hopes and add some much needed spark to their football.

The Brazilian forward had a poor first half of the season and spent much of the time warming the bench, but a six-week lay-off due to a knee injury has given him the chance to work on his fitness and recover his appetite for the game.

"He is really keen to get back, he's no longer got any pain and I'm sure he will bring a lot to the team," captain Carles Puyol said this week.

"He can help bring back that joy we are lacking in our play at the moment. He's a reference point for the team and one of the best players in the world.

Barca dropped nine points behind leaders Real Madrid last weekend after being held to a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao and their football has become increasingly pedestrian.

But Puyol insisted that his team had no intention of throwing in the towel just yet.

"It's true that Real have got an important lead, but it isn't impossible to cut it back even though we are all disappointed at the last result. We have to keep on fighting."

Barca will still be without their explosive striker Samuel Eto'o, who is on international duty at the African Nations Cup, but with Lionel Messi now match fit and Thierry Henry and Bojan Krkic available they will have no shortage of options in attack.

Osasuna are just a point above the relegation zone having lost three of their last four matches and have only won two matches away from home this season.

Leaders Real travel to Almeria on Saturday brimming with confidence after they extended their winning streak to eight games with their 3-2 victory over third-placed Villarreal last week.

"Everyone is expecting us to start losing and we keep winning," fullback Michel Salgado said on Wednesday.

"We are still strong, respond well when anyone scores against us and that is more important than just earning the points."

In the top flight for the first time in 27 years, Almeria have been one of the surprise packages of this season and three wins on the trot have pushed them up into eighth spot in the table.

Valencia will be hoping that their away goals defeat of Atletico Madrid to reach the semi-finals of the King's Cup will signal a change of fortunes in the league when they travel to Valladolid on Sunday.

Ronald Koeman's side have won just one of their last 10 games and are now only five points above the relegation zone.

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