Brief news from La Liga
ahead of this weekend's matches:
Leaders Real Madrid and champions Barcelona, three points
behind their great rivals in second, are both missing key
players for Saturday's games in the Spanish capital against
Atletico Madrid and Getafe respectively.
Real's Brazil playmaker Kaka, Portugal centre-back Ricardo
Carvalho and Spain full-back Alvaro Arbeloa have not recovered
from injury and will miss the derby at the Bernabeu.
Barca playmaker Andres Iniesta, who sat out Wednesday's 3-2
Champions League win at AC Milan with a thigh problem, has not
been included in the squad for the late kickoff at Getafe's
Real coach Jose Mourinho marked Xabi Alonso's 30th
birthday on Friday by underlining the importance of the Spain
midfielder to the team.
"I don't want to say that he is irreplaceable because I
don't want to go to such an extreme," the Portuguese said at a
"He is a man who provides balance," the former Inter Milan
and Chelsea manager added. "He feels strong and often the
biological age is not what's important."
Atletico, who have not beaten Real since 1999, are in
ninth after an erratic start to their campaign under new coach
Gregorio Manzano and Mourinho said Madrid's second club had no
chance of winning the La Liga title.
"But with the squad they have they should be fighting for a
Champions League qualification place and with more working time
maybe in the future they can challenge for the title," he said.
"Great squads can be turned into great teams and tomorrow I
expect a good team."
Atletico will be without their new striker Radamel Falcao
on Saturday after the Colombian lost his fitness battle and was
left out of Manzano's squad.
Falcao's absence means Spain Under-21 international Adrian
will likely play up front, with Argentine forward Eduardo Salvio
Manzano said Atletico would be looking to avoid the mistakes
they made in September's 5-0 drubbing at Barca.
"Obviously we are going to play a more closed game, without
the freedom of space that characterises our usual system and
that led to defensive errors that we have to avoid tomorrow," he
told a news conference.
"We do not want an open match because Madrid have tremendous
Barca coach Pep Guardiola said the squad were missing his
assistant Tito Vilanova, who underwent successful surgery on his
saliva glands this week and will be laid low for about a month.
"We are noticing his absence in every sense of the word,"
Guardiola told a news conference on Friday. "He is a close
friend of mine and at the same time we miss him a lot because he
makes up for what I lack when I take charge of the team."
Third-placed Valencia, four points behind Barca after
their 3-2 defeat at home to Real last weekend, also play in
Madrid on Saturday, with a trip to Rayo Vallecano.
Unai Emery's side are on cloud nine after thrashing Racing
Genk 7-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Roberto
Soldado netting a hat-trick, and their former striker Juan
Sanchez was among those praising the club captain.
"He [Soldado] is on a great run and is one of the best
goalscorers around at the moment," Sanchez was quoted as saying
in Friday's edition of As newspaper.
Fourth-placed Levante, who have lost three straight games
since climbing to the top of the standings for the first time in
their 102-year existence last month, host Sporting Gijon on
Sunday, before sixth-placed Sevilla, without a win in
five matches, play at Real Zaragoza.
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