Guardiola takes stock for Sevilla

MADRID - Pep Guardiola's management skills will be given a new test when Barcelona host Sevilla in La Liga tomorrow, four days after the Andalucians knocked them out of the King's Cup.

MADRID - Pep Guardiola's management skills will be given a new test when Barcelona host Sevilla in La Liga tomorrow, four days after the Andalucians knocked them out of the King's Cup.

Sevilla's 2-1 first-leg victory at the Nou Camp last week was enough to put the holders out of the competition despite Barca winning 1-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday.

It is the first time the coach has suffered elimination from a competition since taking the helm last season and leading Barca to an unprecedented haul of six titles.

"We'll have to see how we react," Guardiola said after Wednesday's game. "I've let my players down. I couldn't have asked for any more from them. If we go out at the last 16 stage it is because something isn't right and I haven't seen it."

Barca continue to set the pace at the top of La Liga with 43 points from 17 matches, two points ahead of second-placed Real Madrid.

Their visitors, whose title challenge has withered recently, have slipped to fifth on the back of three consecutive league defeats.

Waiting for any slip-ups are Barca's arch-rivals Real, who have a tough trip to the traditionally unwelcoming San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao, also tomorrow.

Coach Manuel Pellegrini will have to decide whether to play Raul or Karim Benzema up front after in-form Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain tore a thigh muscle in last weekend's 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca.

"It's always a tough stadium to visit. The fans roar like lions, but there are only 22 players on the pitch," said goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Third-placed Valencia host neighbours Villarreal on Sunday with both clubs smarting from painful King's Cup exits in the week.

At the foot of the table, Xerez sacked coach Jose Angel Ziganda and stand-in Antonio Poyatos will take charge for the trip to Real Zaragoza. - Reuters

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