Continuing absence of injured Ronaldinho puts Barcelona under pressure to sustain climb up Spanish table

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Barcelona must prove they can sustain their improvement without the injured Brazilian forward Ronaldinho when they visit Villarreal today. The World Cup winner has added a new dimension to the Barça attack and his four goals have helped propel them to fourth place. But a strained thigh muscle is likely to rule out the 23-year-old for at least another two weeks.

Slip-ups by Real Madrid and Valencia allowed Deportivo to return to the top with a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad and they travel to meet a Real Betis side beaten three times in a row.

Valencia fell to only their second defeat of the season against Racing Santander, but will be odds-on favourites away to 19th-placed Murcia, while Madrid should have no problems at home to Albacete, who lie 18th, despite losing 4-1 in Sevilla.

In Italy, Milan must win at Chievo tomorrow if they are to keep in touch with Juventus. Third-placed Milan have drawn their last two games, at home to the champions and away to Parma, allowing Juve to move two points clear.

With Juventus's Champions' League trip to Galatasaray held over, the coach, Marcello Lippi, will field a full-strength team away to Modena. Second-placed Roma travel to Bologna with only Marco Delvecchio ruled out. Internazionale, lying fifth, are unbeaten under the new coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, but need to beat Reggina at home this evening to stay with the leading pack.

After three successive defeats, Olympique Marseille face two games in five days that could effectively spell the end of their season. Defeat at Lille today would probably leave them nine points behind the leaders Monaco, while even an unexpected victory over Real Madrid at the Stade Velodrome in the Champions' League on Wednesday may not prevent the French team's exit from the competition.

The Bundesliga leaders VfB Stuttgart, preparing for a Champions' League game against Rangers, are undefeated after 12 league games but will miss the central defenders Marcelo Bordon and Fernando Meira through injury and suspension against Hanover 96 today.

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