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The Ronaldinho soap opera continues
by Paul Kennedy, December 7th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  england, germany, italy, spain


[WEEKEND HEADLINERS] Amid speculation that Ronaldinho is unhappy and wants to move after starting the last two games on the bench, Barcelona played up the Brazilian's value to the team. Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic played down talk of Inter Milan walking away with another Italian league title. Embattled Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce hopes the Magpies can build upon Wednesday's 1-1 draw with English Premier League leader Arsenal. In Germany, leader Bayern Munich is considering its winter moves with the mid-season break only two weeks away.

Barcelona welcomes back Samuel Eto'o, who is expected to start against Coruna on Saturday after a three-month layoff with a thigh injury, but the big story at La Liga's second-place team concerns the status of Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian has come off the Barca bench for the last two games, further fueling speculation that he might be on his way out during the January transfer window. With brother and agent Roberto de Assis in Barcelona this week, reports have appeared in the Barcelona press that Ronaldinho's situation is now "untenable." "Because of circumstances of injuries and because of travel with his national team," says Barca president Joan Laporta, "he hasn't been at full strength in training and hasn't found his rhythm, but I don't believe he's a substitute. He's a key player, and Rijkaard knows it."

Laporta was, of course, referring to Barca coach Frank Rijkaard, viewed in some quarters to be the bad guy in the Ronaldinho saga.

"I'm working so that we see the best Ronaldinho return and that it will be with Barcelona," Rijkaard said. "Now he has to concentrate and show what a great player he is. And that is what he is doing."



Despite his club's three-point lead over second-place Roma and its 14-game unbeaten streak, Inter Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic says it's too early to talk of a third straight Serie A title for the Nerazzurri.

Even though its midfield was depleted with injuries to Luis Figo, Patrick Vieira, Dejan Stankovic and Olivier Dacourt, Inter cruised past Lazio, 3-0, at home on Wednesday. Ibrahimovic scored the first goal from the penalty spot to give him eight goals in Serie A to go along with five in the Champions League.

"The championship over? We are only a little bit in front of the others," Ibrahimovic told Italian talk radio network Radio Radio. "The championship is long and we should only look at things game by game. Roma are close to us, but the others can also reenter the race. It is important we keep our concentration and always play with confidence."



Sam Allardyce hopes Newcastle United can build upon Wednesday's 1-1 draw with English Premier League leader Arsenal when the Magpies host Birmingham City on Saturday.

Newcastle had taken just one point in its previous five games and lost twice at St. James' Park to fall to 11th in the EPL and put Allardyce's job in jeopardy. "We've got to produce what we produced tonight against Birmingham City, no less," he said after the Arsenal game, "and try to get that win to kick us off for the next three or four games."

Rumors have been flying that Allardyce and his players were feuding our over tactics and lineup choices.

"Whispers leak out when things aren't going so well and they get written into massive headlines," he said. "It's a fact of life at this club. They showed great commitment to get the fans behind them, that was there for all to see. We've got to make sure we build from this now starting with Birmingham on Saturday, make sure things don't turn again."



With only two games left before the Bundesliga wraps up for the winter, Bayern Munich is clinging to a one-point lead over Werder Bremen at the top.

Bayern will be without Halil Altintop, who underwent knee surgery this week, and Brazilian defender Lucio remains suspended, but it is heavily favored against next-to-last Duisburg, which has not won at Munich in 40 years.

With the Bundesliga title an absolute priority for Bayern, management is preparing for the opening of the January transfer window. Bayern already has a deal to send Valerien Ismael to Hannover, and fellow Frenchman Willy Sagnol may also move. Speculation about reinforcements revolves around a pair of midfielders, Daniele de Rossi of Roma and FC Zurich's Tunisian, Yassine Chikhaoui, as well as 18-year-old Brazilian defender Breno from Sao Paulo.

GOL TV, BAYERN MUNICH-DUISBURG, Saturday (delay), 11:30 am ET.


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