Rijkaard rests Barça's key players

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The Independent Online

It is possible that Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Rafael Marquez, Gabriel Milito and Lilian Thuram are all genuinely unfit to play for Barcelona against Espanyol today. Or perhaps their manager, Frank Rijkaard, has given up on La Liga, in which Barça trail Real Madrid by nine points, to concentrate on next week's European semi-final against Manchester United.

That was the subliminal message from the midfielder Xavi when he dismissed suggestions that the club was in crisis: "We are in the semi-finals of the Champions League. What sort of crisis is that?"

The Portuguese midfielder Deco is expected to return after a month out. Real are at Racing Santander tomorrow.

A genuine crisis is brewing at Levante. Not only can they be relegated this weekend but the players are threatening to strike if they are not paid by next weekend. Celebrations at La Mestalla have been muted following Valencia's midweek Kings' Cup win over Getafe. Valencia are still in relegation danger and Ronald Koeman remains under threat of the sack. The chairman, Agustin Morera, decreed that the partying would wait.

In Italy a tight title race is being overshadowed by reports that George Soros, the billionaire financier, is in talks to buy Roma, and by the possible retirement of two legends. Italpetroli, the company of Roma owner Franco Sensi, admitted discussions with a potential suitor but refused to say who.

Roma have cut Inter-nazionale's Serie A lead to four points. Today they face Livorno at home. Inter go to Torino tomorrow without Patrick Vieira, Zlaten Ibrahimovic and Luis Figo. The Portuguese suffered a calf strain in midweek and may not play again, as he is considering retirement. He may be in good company, as Milan's Paolo Maldini may also have played his last match, after suffering a thigh injury.

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