Rijkaard urges fans to show 'unity' in the Nou Camp

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The Independent Online

The Camp Nou might not feel as cosy as Barcelona would like it to be tonight when they host Schalke in the return leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.

The Catalans, who hold a 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Germany, have excelled in Europe this season but their recent league form has been a worry.

A 0-0 draw against visiting Getafe on Sunday made it one win in six league matches for Barcelona, with La Liga leaders Real Madrid ahead by seven points with seven games left. Coach Frank Rijkaard and president Joan Laporta have been singled out by fans tired of Barcelona's inconsistent form since the Champions League victory two years ago – when the club also clinched a second straight league title.

"We need unity in order to help the team at times like this," Rijkaard said. "The team deserves more respect for what they are trying to do."

Barcelona, who hit the post three times against Getafe, the Uefa Cup quarter-finalists, can at least plan without immediate question marks hanging over Ronaldinho's return.

The Brazil playmaker is out for five more weeks with a leg injury, while his departure from the club is reportedly imminent with Manchester City and Milan trying to sign him.

Argentine forward Lionel Messi has almost recovered from a thigh injury but is unlikely to play while Portugal midfielder Deco could start.

The team's attack is likely to rest on the shoulders of the teenage striker Bojan Krkic. The 17-year-old Krkic became the second youngest scorer in the Champions League since its inception in 1992 with his goal at Schalke, which capped a run of four in three games.

Roberto de Assis, the brother and agent of Ronaldinho, has played down reports the Brazilian will leave the Nou Camp in the summer. As well as City and Milan, the 28-year-old has been linked with Internazionale and Chelsea. De Assis was seen having dinner with Milan technical director Adriano Galliani and was also a guest of City at their game against Chelsea at Eastlands.

However, he claims the meetings were "personal matters" and did not concern his brother. "My work is to form relationships within the world of football," he told Spanish football magazine Don Balon.

"It is normal for me to travel to speak with certain people about personal matters when I believe it to be necessary. He [Ronaldinho] has a contract until 2010 and I'm not looking for anything."

Schalke know their chances of advancing are slim, but they haven't given up, drawing on their dominant second-half display against the Catalans in the first leg. "We could have scored and that makes us optimistic about our chances in this game," said Schalke coach, Mirko Slomka. "If we're going to win... we just need to play well for the full 90 minutes."

Schalke beat Hansa Rostock 1-0 on Saturday for their fourth win in five games to move up to second in the Bundesliga. The team head to Barcelona knowing they are on the way to fulfilling one goal – a return trip to the Champions League.

"We know we're not playing very good or pretty football, but the results count," midfielder Halil Altintop said after his 52nd-minute headed winner.

Schalke's problem has been top-scorer Kevin Kuranyi. Out of form for months despite notching 14 goals, Kuranyi was booed in the first leg against Barcelona after being substituted on the hour mark.

Against Rostock, Kuranyi didn't start for the first time in 18 months and wasted several good chances when he finally did come on. "Kuranyi, after his introduction, had three big chances. Two of them were held very well by the Rostock goalkeeper," said Slomka, who will have the forward in his starting line-up tonight.

Slomka has blamed Kuranyi's lack of form on missed practice sessions when he caught pneumonia during the winter break in January.

The back-line could be weak with defenders Rafinha, Heiko Westermann, Christian Pander and Mladen Krstajic all struggling with injuries.

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