MADRID - Champions Real Madrid need their injured players back as soon as possible to begin the task of trying to haul back a 12-point gap to leaders Barcelona, defender Michel Salgado said. Real produced a battling performance at the Nou Camp on Saturday but Juande Ramos was condemned to defeat in his first match since his surprise appointment to succeed Bernd Schuster last week as his side conceded two late goals to go down 2-0. Ramos has taken over a squad with key players including central defender Pepe and midfielder Wesley Sneijder recovering from injury, while striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra are out for the season. His task on Saturday was made even harder by the suspensions of winger Arjen Robben and left back Marcelo. "We have to get the injured players back," Salgado told reporters after the match at the Nou Camp. "There were a lot of jokes about how many goals Barcelona were going to put past us but we had our chances and I would give the team 10 out of 10." "Barcelona are already celebrating the league title but for us the important thing is to beat Valencia and get to January in good shape." Real are languishing in fifth place in the league and host Valencia, who moved up to second with a 2-1 win over Espanyol on Saturday, at the Bernabeu next weekend. Real could be overtaken by both city rivals Atletico and Deportivo Coruna if the pair beat Real Betis and Real Valladolid respectively on Sunday. NOT GIVING UP Real sporting director Predrag Mijatovic, who will be looking to strengthen the squad during the winter transfer period, said he had seen a lot of positives on Saturday and he was optimistic about the rest of the season. "This side can improve a great deal when the injured players return and we just need a bit more luck," he told reporters. "It looks like a difficult task to get back 12 points but there are a lot of matches to be played and people will recover," he added. "We cannot, and we will not, give up." Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o, the league's top scorer who bundled in the first goal in the 83rd minute on Saturday, said Real had defended well and his side had had to fight hard for the win. "They are champions and they showed that today," he said while captain Carles Puyol said Barca's lead was important but would not count Real out. "They are always dangerous on the counter attack and they proved that tonight," he said. "But this time we were able to keep them under control."
14 December 2008
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