Brief news from La Liga
ahead of this weekend's matches, the last before
the winter break:
The key to beating Real Madrid is preventing them from
unleashing their devastating counter-attacks, according to
Sevilla coach Marcelino, whose side host Real at the Sanchez
Pizjuan on Saturday.
"If they win the ball, we have to try in any way we can to
stop them coming at us with the same number of attackers as our
defenders or with numerical superiority," Marcelino was quoted
as saying in Friday's edition of As sports daily.
"And if they have the ball we have to defend very solidly,"
A win in Seville would lift Real back above Barcelona to the
top and restore the three-point lead their rivals wiped out last
weekend when Barca triumphed 3-1 in the opening Clasico of the
campaign at Real's Bernabeu stadium.
Champions Barca, who are not in La Liga action this
weekend while they compete at the Club World Cup in Japan, are
still reeling from the broken leg David Villa sustained in
Thursday's semi-final against Qatar's Al Sadd.
Forward Pedro said the injury, which the club announced
would probably sideline the Spain striker for up to five months,
would be used by the players as extra motivation as Villa had
desperately wanted to win the cup for the first time.
"Villa is optimistic, cheerful, and hoping to be fit and
able to play in the [Champions League] final in Munich and the
European Championships," Pedro told Barca's
Atletico Madrid coach Gregorio Manzano is one of several
La Liga coaches under pressure after his side performed
erratically during the first half of the season. They lie 10th
with 19 points from 15 games ahead of Sunday's match at home to
Atletico's form in the Europa League has been more
consistent, although home fans at the Calderon chanted slogans
against Manzano and the club's board during Thursday's 3-1 win
at home to Ligue 1 side Stade Rennes.
Manzano told a post-match news conference he was expecting a
negative atmosphere after Tuesday's 2-1 King's Cup defeat at
"We came out to do what we had to do," he said. "I have the
satisfaction of getting through a Europa League qualifier and
playing a very good group phase."
Betis secured their first victory in 11 matches with a
dramatic 2-1 comeback win at home to third-placed Valencia last
weekend and coach Pepe Mel, who has received backing from the
club president despite the team's woeful run, wants more of the
same against Atletico.
"I am asking my players to come out and play the same way
they did against Valencia, that's the reference point," Mel told
a news conference on Friday. "If we don't come out with the
necessary aggression we will suffer."
Third-placed Valencia slipped seven points behind Barca
and Real thanks to the defeat at Betis and face a tough game at
home to big-spending Malaga, who are sixth, on Sunday.
Qatar-owned Malaga were one of the biggest spenders in the
close-season and Valencia defender Jordi Alba said he and his
team-mates needed to raise their game after losing their last
three matches in all competitions.
"It's going to be a close game because they are up there in
the table with us," said Alba. "It's going to be very tough."
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