Sunday 18 February 2018

Guardiola's gamble fails to pay off as Barca suffer rare defeat

James Mariner

Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola admitted his gamble with team selection failed as his side fell further behind Real Madrid in the race title.

The reigning Spanish and European champions went down 3-2 at a freezing Osasuna on Saturday, after Guardiola named a much-changed line-up with tomorrow's Champions League trip to Bayer Leverkusen in mind. Xavi and Andres Iniesta remained on the bench, while Cesc Fabregas played only the last 20 minutes.

"Osasuna started off well and adapted to the pitch and the cold better than we did," Guardiola said.

"We struggled to get into the game. The league is much tougher now. But we have to keep on going until the end."

Two Dejan Lekic goals put the hosts ahead before Alexis Sanchez halved the deficit. Raul Garcia restored Osasuna's two-goal advantage before Cristian Tello's scored the visitors' second.

Elsewhere in Spain, goals from Paulo da Silva and Juan Carlos gave bottom side Real Zaragoza a shock 2-0 success at fifth-placed Espanyol.

In Italy, Internazionale lost 1-0 at home to Novara, while Juventus' trip to Bologna was postponed due to the adverse weather conditions.

Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain failed to win for the first time under new coach Carlo Ancelotti and saw their lead atop the French league trimmed to one point Sunday after it was held to a 0-0 draw at struggling Nice.

Although PSG remains unbeaten under Ancelotti, it showed little creativity and created few scoring chances in a scrappy game against a resilient Nice team that gained an important point in their battle against relegation.

PSG, who have spent over €100m on players this season, is now just one point ahead of Montpellier's relatively cheaply assembled team featuring several players who came through the youth ranks.

PSG could be overtaken at the top if they lose at home to Montpellier next Sunday, and they also play at Dijon in the French Cup on Wednesday.

Ancelotti won his first five matches in charge since replacing Antoine Kombouare last month, but had little to be happy about as he watched Brazilian winger Nene fluff a late chance to win the game.

"We had a few problems," Ancelotti said.

"Nice stood up to us well, and their midfield was good, so it's a logical result."

Irish Independent

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