Barcelona lack spark with Henry on sidelines

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The Independent Football

A lethargic-looking Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by 10-man Racing Santander in their opening La Liga match of the season yesterday.

The Catalans, who spent over ¿65m (£44m) on new players, including the France striker Thierry Henry, during the close season, were outplayed by their modest opponents who are one of the lowest spenders in the Spanish league.

Barça dominated possession but their sluggish passing and lack of spark up front meant that Racing had little problem holding them even after Polish debutant Ebi Smolarek was sent off midway through the second half.

The arça coach Frank Rijkaard left Henry on the bench at the Sardinero, preferring instead to stick with last season's strike force of Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho.

But if the build-up to the match was dominated by talk of Barcelona's "Fantastic Four", the reality on the pitch was very different as Racing carried the greater threat throughout.

Valencia, who opened their league campaign at home to regional rivals Villarreal last night with a 3-0 thrashing from the visiting side, have reached an agreement to sign the Portugal midfielder Manuel Fernandes on a six-year deal from Benfica.

Spanish media reported that Valencia were likely to have paid between ¿12m and ¿15m (£8m-10m) for the 21-year-old international. Valencia said the agreement was dependent on the player passing a medical.

The prognosis for the Seville player Antonio Puerta remains "very serious" following his collapse and loss of consciousness during his side's 4-1 win against Getafe on Saturday.

"Antonio Puerta remains under sedation in the intensive care unit, with assisted ventilation and haemodynamic instability," said a medical report issued by the Virgen del Rocio hospital in Seville. "We will issue another report [today] unless there are further incidents to report."

The Seville president, Jose Maria del Nid,o said doctors were becoming more optimistic for the 22-year-old Spain international. "The player's life was saved thanks to the rapid intervention of the club doctors and the Red Cross, because he had a number of cardiac arrests," Del Nido said on the club's website.

"Despite the severity of the situation his situation appears to be evolving favourably and the doctors are more optimistic."