Brief news from La Liga ahead of
this weekend's matches:
Leaders Barcelona have Cesc Fabregas back in the squad for
Saturday's match at home to Sevilla after the Spain
midfielder shrugged off a hamstring injury sustained in training
on October 1, Barca said on their website on Friday.
The return of the former Arsenal captain means coach Pep
Guardiola now has only three injury absentees: Spain centre-back
Gerard Pique and Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, who should both
return soon, and Netherlands midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, who is
likely to miss most of the season after knee surgery.
Barca, who are level on 17 points with surprise package
Levante at the top, have not conceded a goal for five games in
all competitions. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes is an hour away from
breaking his record of 577 minutes unbeaten.
"The team is defending very well," he told the club's TV
channel on Thursday. "We are winning the ball back very quickly
and are working extremely hard on keeping up the pressure."
Real Madrid are a point behind Barca and Levante in third
and face a potentially tricky trip on Saturday to
big-spending Malaga, the Qatar-owned club bidding for a European
qualification berth this season.
Real's Argentina winger Angel di Maria believes the team is
playing much better than last season as they have had more time
to gel under coach Jose Mourinho, now in his second term.
"Last year we were already very good, but this season we are
developing as a group even more because we have already been
together for a year," Di Maria told the club's TV channel on
"The players who have arrived have adapted very well and
very quickly," he added.
Malaga, coached by Mourinho's predecessor at Real, Manuel
Pellegrini, slipped up in their last outing, losing 3-0 at
Levante after having goalkeeper Willy Caballero sent off in the
The club's Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla, who joined from
Villarreal in the close season, said Malaga will have to play "a
perfect game" if they are to defeat Real.
"Our tactics will not change, whoever our opponent is," he
said in an interview with As sports daily published Friday. "But
it being Real Madrid, it's clear that you cannot make a single
mistake because you'll pay dearly."
Pellegrini is without Julio Baptista for the game at the
Rosaleda. The Brazil forward, who had two stints with Real, as
well as time at Sevilla, Arsenal and AS Roma, has failed to
recover from a foot injury. Goalkeeper Caballero is suspended.
Mourinho can expect a hostile reception from Malaga fans
after he made comments about the club last season that were seen
as belittling to Pellegrini.
At a news conference on Friday, Mourinho claimed he had been
misinterpreted and insisted he wished Malaga the best.
"I hope Malaga, while losing [to us] tomorrow, get to where
the project wants to get, which is playing Champions League next
season and with the quality they have I hope and wish they can
do it," the Portuguese said.
Levante, the tiny Valencia-based club who stunned visiting
Real Madrid 1-0 last month, are undefeated in seven games this
season and can make it six straight wins at Villarreal on Sunday.
Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez said his players are enjoying
their unexpected success but added the club are not letting it
go to their heads.
"It's a nice and lovely moment, but... avoiding relegation
remains our objective," he told a Friday news conference.
Atletico Madrid need to pick themselves up for Real
Malllorca's visit on Sunday after they crashed to a 2-0
defeat at Udinese in Thursday's Europa League match, when they
conceded two late goals.
"The team is not in crisis but it's a body blow," coach
Gregorio Manzano, who took over at the end of last season, said
at a news conference after the match in Italy.
Valencia also suffered a setback in Europe ahead of their
game at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, surrendering
the lead and losing 2-1 at Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen.
Unai Emery's side made a strong start to the season, but
have faltered in recent games, prompting criticism of the coach
from fan groups, who have accused him of lacking courage.
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