Barcelona look to bounce back in La Liga
Top of the league Barcelona face struggling Osasuna at home on Sunday bidding to bounce back from a first league defeat of the season, 3-2 at Real Sociedad, last Saturday.
Barca’s record breaking first-half of the season, which saw them drop only two points, means Tito Vilanova’s side sit eight ahead of Atletico Madrid in second with Real Madrid a further seven points back in third.
However, last weekend’s set-back saw the Catalans lose a two-goal lead in San Sebastian and it should serve as a wake up call with 18 league games still to play.
Despite that defeat, Barcelona showed in midweek that there was no long-term damage when they beat Malaga 4-2 in the Spanish Cup quarter-finals to set-up a semi-final clash with Real Madrid.
Both Madrid sides won their games last Sunday to cut the deficit at the top, but have lost key players, Iker Casillas for Real and Radamel Falcao for Atletico, in the past week.
Barca will themselves be without new father Gerard Pique on Sunday after his red card against Sociedad.
Osasuna forward Nino believes his side will be full of confidence after a 2-1 win over Deportivo last Sunday that saw the Pamplona-based side move off the bottom of the table.
“Wins give you the confidence for the day-to-day and then the game on Sunday. We work hard to win and you feel better when you achieve that. We all know the situation is difficult but we will try not to give anything away at Barcelona,” he said.
“We know it won’t be easy but any point would help us out, so we’ll be giving it our best.” Atletico Madrid go to Athletic Bilbao, also on Sunday, without top-scorer Falcao who picked up a muscle problem in his left thigh in Sunday’s win over Levante.
The Colombian striker, who has 18 league goals, is expected to be out for at least another two weeks, but coach Diego Simeone is not too worried.
“He is important for us, but we have Diego Costa, Adrian Lopez and Raul Garcia who can give us cover in attack and they are good players,” he said.
Atletico’s Spanish international Juanfran is another absentee — he has not trained since picking up a hamstring injury against Betis in the Cup.
Real Madrid face neighbours Getafe on Sunday without goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas who fractured a bone in his left hand after a collision with teammate Alvaro Arbeloa in Wednesday’s Spanish Cup quarter-final second leg in Valencia.
Casillas could be out of action for up to two months, which would also see him ruled out of the Champions League last-16 tie with Manchester United.
Antonio Adan will cover for Casillas and Madrid will also have Sergio Ramos back in defence, as a red card picked up in the Cup will not mean a suspension in the league.
For the same reason Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao, who picked up further red cards at Valencia, will also be available, but centre-half Pepe is still not available and coach Jose Mourinho will choose between Raphael Varane or Raul Albiol to partner Ramos in defence.
Getafe defender Alexis Ruano thinks his mid-table side can produce a shock in the Santiago Bernabeu.
“It does not matter if it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuain or Ozil in front of you, they are all good players, but I’m on top form, very happy and want to help the team,” said Ruano.
“Lets see if we can get something and qualify for the Europa League or fight for a Champions League place.”
Saturday Celta Vigo v Real Sociedad (1500 GMT), Levante v Valladolid (1700 GMT), Zaragoza v Espanyol (1900 GMT), Deportivo La Coruna v Valencia (2100 GMT)
Sunday Real Madrid v Getafe (1100 GMT), Rayo Vallecano v Betis (1600 GMT), Barcelona v Osasuna (1800 GMT) Mallorca v Malaga (2000 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid (2000 GMT) Monday Sevilla v Granada (2030 GMT)