Unsettled Ronaldinho consigned to bench as Bara falter in local derby

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The Independent Football

Ronaldinho started a league game on the bench for the first time in his Barcelona career at the weekend and when he came off it with his team winning 1-0 his impact was almost instant the opposition equalised.

The Brazilian could not be blamed for the leveller at neighbours Espanyol in the 1-1 draw but it has been the story of Bara's season so far that Frank Rijkaard's team have fared much better without Ronaldinho than with him.

To complete another miserable weekend for the footballer previously known as the best in the world, he was then bizarrely linked with Middlesbrough in the Barcelona paper, Sport.

The paper's columnist Jose Luis Carazo claimed that stories of interest in Ronaldinho from Chelsea and Milan had been manufactured by his agent Roberto de Assis as part of a campaign to get his brother a new contract at the Nou Camp. He added that: "The only firm offer that Barcelona have received for Ronaldinho has come from Middlesbrough who have bid 10m although the offer to the player in wages is much more lucrative."

These are tough times for Ronaldinho, who Middlesbrough last night confirmed had not been the subject of any offer from them. After being "rested" in the previous home match because he was suffering from fatigue he was this time taking the weight off his feet on the Bara bench as Rijkaard chose to start with the 17-year-old, Bojan Krkic in his place. "His moment to return to the starting 11 will come" said Rijkaard. "He has shown a good attitude and is getting better physically. I can only pick 11 players so you could ask me why various individuals did not start."

With Thierry Henry sidelined indefinitely with a back injury and Samuel Eto'o still not quite ready to make his comeback, Rijkaard's starting line-up included six products of Barcelona's youth team and two of them combined to put the visitors ahead.

Leo Messi's run down the right ended with him crossing for Andres Iniesta to convert after just six minutes. Barcelona missed a host of chances to extend their lead but failed to kill the game, hence Ronaldinho's introduction on 63 minutes. But the only thing the change inspired was Espanyol's equaliser five minutes later with Coro scoring from Albert Riera's fine run and cross.

The architect of the goal has been outstanding on the left wing for Espanyol this season forcing his way into the Spain team and also on to the Spurs manager, Juande Ramos', wish-list of reinforcements.

Ronaldinho tried to hit back but he was thwarted twice by the Espanyol keeper, Carlos Kameni.

Barcelona now have just seven points from a possible 21 on the road and their latest failure meant Real Madrid moved four points clear of them at the top.

A revitalised Raul, who The Independent last week reported is sleeping in conditions of altitude in a specially designed "oxygen room" to prolong his career, gave another lung-busting display scoring twice to take his tally for the season to eight, one more than the whole of last season.

He converted a Ruud van Nistelrooy pass and then scored from a free-kick as Real Madrid beat Racing Santander 3-1. Racing's Sergio Sanchez put Madrid's other goal through his own net and Pedro Munitis got the visitor's consolation.

Meanwhile, Seville continue to perform as badly in the league as they are superbly in Europe. The team that put three past Arsenal in midweek lost 1-0 at Almeria leaving themselves just three points from the relegation zone.

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