Brief news from La Liga
ahead of this weekend's matches:
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has denied centre-back
Gerard Pique provoked a fifth yellow card in Tuesday's 4-0 home
win over Rayo Vallecano so he would serve a one-match ban
against Levante on Saturday and be free to play in next
week's 'Clasico' at leaders Real Madrid.
Madrid-based media had speculated the Spanish football
federation (RFEF) might ban him for two games as he appeared to
invite the card by taking too long over a free kick, but the
RFEF gave him a standard one-match ban on Friday.
"We don't practice these things in training," Guardiola said
at a news conference. "If we had prepared it beforehand we would
not have done it like that."
Guardiola has a full squad available for Saturday's game
against fourth-placed Levante, with the exception of Pique and
full-back Adriano, who has a thigh strain.
The champions are in second place on 31 points from 14
matches, three behind Real Madrid, who have 34 from 13.
Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo returned to training on
Thursday after missing a couple of sessions with a sprained
ankle sustained in the win over Atletico Madrid last weekend.
Coach Jose Mourinho will be without suspended
midfielder Xabi Alonso at Sporting Gijon. Turkey
international Nuri Sahin is his likely replacement.
Real are bidding for a 10th straight La Liga win and their
14th in all competitions.
Real's France striker Karim Benzema said the team are ready
for the challenge of playing Barca, who are seeking a club
record-equalling fourth straight La Liga title.
"We don't want to think too much about Barcelona or talk
about them because we know they are one of the best teams in the
world," Benzema told Friday's As sports daily.
"But I'll tell you one thing: we are ready for the challenge
Valencia midfielder Tino Costa has said the players' minds
are partly on Tuesday's Champions League Group E decider at
Chelsea, ahead of hosting Espanyol on Saturday.
"Whoever says they are not thinking about Chelsea is lying
because we all want to win this match as it will be one of the
most important many of us have played," Costa told Friday's As.
"But our daily bread is La Liga and if anyone thinks
differently they are mistaken," he added. Valencia are four
points behind Barca in third with a game in hand.
Former Valencia and Argentina player Mario Kempes will be at
the Mestalla for Saturday's game and the club is considering a
fan groups' proposal that his name should be chanted in the 10th
minute at every game.
Known as the 'matador', Kempes wore the number 10 shirt and
scored 108 league goals for the club in 170 appearances in the
late 1970s and early 80s.
Atletico Madrid pair Arda Turan and Adriano missed
Thursday's training session ahead of Sunday's match at home to
city rivals Rayo Vallecano, the club said on their
Turkey midfielder Turan complained of sore muscles after
Wednesday's 1-0 Europa League win at Celtic, in which he netted
the only goal, while Adriano has acute gastroenteritis.
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