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Pep's gamble fails to pay off

You bend down to accept the medal and someone else kicks you up the backside. Pep Guardiola was given the medal of honour by the parliament of Catalonia last week but, at the weekend, the praise turned to gentle criticism as his team selection contributed to Barcelona dropping two points behind Real Madrid in the title race, writes Pete Jenson.

Guardiola was given Catalonia's highest award, and, after his emotion-charged acceptance speech, there was talk from his supporters of him one day becoming president -- not of FC Barcelona but of Catalonia itself. "I'm just a coach" he told fans and, on Saturday in San Sebastian, he was a coach taking gambles that did not pay off.

He rested six first-team players for the away fixture with Real Sociedad, most notably leaving out defenders Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal. Barca were already without the injured Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. With converted midfielder Sergi Busquets in defence next to the inexperienced Andreu Fontas, Barca squandered a two-goal lead in drawing 2-2.

The draw left Barcelona two points behind Real Madrid who beat Getafe 4-2, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the second from a dubiously-awarded penalty. He is La Liga's joint top scorer on four goals with Roberto Soldado. The Valencia striker scored his side's goal in their 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid to put his side joint top with Real. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent