Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard took no risks ahead of Tuesday's massive Champions League semi-final with Manchester United, resting most of his stars in a 2-0 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna that all but gifts the title to Real Madrid.
Real can win the title on Sunday with victory over Athletic Bilbao – providing Villarreal fail to win – and Barca's approach against Depor emphasised that they had waved the white flag and Europe is now the top priority.
Barca are 11 points behind Real, who also have a game in hand, and face a fight to seal second place with Villarreal a point ahead having played one game less.
But that pales in signifance to the trip to Old Trafford with Barca, who drew 0-0 in the first leg at Camp Nou, looking for a vital away goal to help them reach the Moscow final.
Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gaby Milito, Deco and Victor Valdes were all notable absentees in the Barca line-up against Depor although Rijkaard claimed he was not resting them for Manchester United.
“We put a team out there to do a job but before thinking about the result, I think about the health of my players,” Rijkaard explained.
“My decision is not influenced by being first or second or still in the Champions League.
“Eto'o and Xavi are both in need of a rest to gain strength. As for Messi his case is different.”
Argentine winger Messi, 20, played in the first leg against Manchester United but has only just returned to first team action after a torn muscle in his left leg back in March interrupted his season.
“Some people are saying Messi is ready to play ninety minutes, but unfortunately that is not the case,” Rijkaard added.
“He has already suffered two very serious injuries and we must protect him – I no longer speak as the coach of BarÃƒÂ§a, but as a fan of football, because I would like to see Messi playing for many years.
“I do not rest anyone thinking about another game, but only because the player needs it.”
A concern for Barca is that despite having the likes of Henry, Messi and Eto'o the goals have dried up with three out of their last four league matches ending in scoreless draws.
“If we create chances the goals will come,” Rijkaard. “A lot of things have happened this season, like injuries for example, and these things affect you.”
Against Manchester United they are desperate to get an away goal knowing Sir Alex Ferguson's team will then have to score twice.
Rijkaard won the Champions League with Barca two years ago – defeating Arsenal in the final – and may have to repeat that feat to save his job.
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