BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sergi Barjuan will get his first chance to lead Barcelona from the Camp Nou dugout when it hosts Alavés on Saturday.
It might also be his last chance.
The reserve team coach was promoted to act as caretaker coach for the first team following the firing of Ronald Koeman. Barjuan inherited a side that is in ninth place in the Spanish league, after back-to-back losses to Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid, and struggling to score since the departure of Lionel Messi.
It could have been a chance to rest players and still pick up three points against a modest rival like Alavés. Now it's become a match of great importance, Barjuan said Friday.
“I have very little time to work with and arrive at a difficult moment ... but I want to bring back some joy to our game,” said Barjuan, who played under Johan Cruyff as a Barcelona left back from 1993 to 2002.
“The league is still wide open and we cannot drop any more points, especially at home.”
As well as the game against Alavés, Barcelona president Joan Laporta said that Barjuan could possibly be in charge for next week's Champions League match at Ukraine's Dynamo Kyiv. Barcelona needs to win that game to boost its chances of avoiding elimination from the group stage for the first time in two decades.
Laporta said the club won’t be rushed in its search for a coach amid some reports that former player Xavi Hernández is his favored candidate.
The only thing going for Barcelona right now is that most rivals are not taking full advantage of the woeful results that cost Koeman his job.
Real Sociedad was the only top team to win last round in games played midweek.
Sweden striker Alexander Isak has taken over the scoring duties for Sociedad while injured top-scorer Mikel Oyarzabal recovers. Isak scored in a 2-2 draw at Atlético Madrid last weekend before he got the first goal in a 2-0 win at Celta Vigo on Thursday, helping to lift Sociedad three points clear at the top ahead of Real Madrid, Sevilla and Real Betis.
Sociedad hasn’t lost in 13 games in all competitions since being defeated in its season opener. It faces an always hotly contested Basque Country derby on Sunday with Athletic Bilbao visiting San Sebastián.
Madrid visits Elche on Saturday after being held to a scoreless draw by Osasuna at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team has only one win in its last four league games, a poor run that has let Barcelona stay in striking distance at only six points behind Madrid.
“We need to work on our attack,” Ancelotti said Friday. “We had scoring chances against Sheriff (when Madrid lost 2-1 in the Champions League) and Osasuna, but we have to finish better, work on our positioning, and get more players near the penalty spot when we put in crosses.”
Atlético will be without Diego Simeone for its home match against in-form Betis on Sunday after the Argentine coach was sent off with two yellow cards for complaining in a 2-2 draw at Levante.
After reinforcing its championship squad with Antoine Griezmann and other players, Atlético had the ideal opportunity to make a strong start in its bid to repeat as league champion for the first time since it won back-to-back titles in 1950 and '51. Instead, it sits in sixth place at five points off the pace and level with Rayo and Osasuna, the two surprises of the season.
Osasuna takes its unbeaten road record of four wins and a draw to Sevilla on Saturday.
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Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press