Barcelona have been
imperious at their Nou Camp home this season but will be keen
to improve their patchy away form when they take on city rivals
Espanyol on Sunday as La Liga swings back into action after the
Pep Guardiola's side, chasing a fourth straight domestic
league title, are three points behind leaders Real Madrid after
16 games despite humbling their rivals 3-1 in the capital last
While Barca are unbeaten at home, where they have won eight
and drawn one and scored 39 goals without reply, they have won
only three of their seven away games, netting 11 and conceding
eight, and suffered a surprise 1-0 reverse at Getafe in
November, their only defeat of the campaign.
Guardiola told a news conference after Wednesday's 4-0
King's Cup home win over Osasuna he expected a "difficult and
physically tough" challenge in the Catalan derby at Espanyol's
Cornella-El Prat arena.
Barca have won only two of their last five away games
against their neighbours, although they inflicted a 5-1 drubbing
on Mauricio Pochettino's team when they visited last season.
"Espanyol have been doing things very well for many years
now," Guardiola said.
"They have an excellent coach, they can count on the
aggression of young players and they can play good football.
"What we have to do is recuperate well because it's a vital
game for the future of our league challenge."
Real Madrid have question marks over the fitness of winger
Angel di Maria and defender Sergio Ramos ahead of their game at
home to promoted Granada on Saturday.
Both missed Tuesday's comeback cup win over Malaga through
injury and the absence of Ramos, who has switched from right-back into central defence this season, was particularly obvious
as the home side conceded twice from corners to fall two goals
behind by half-time.
A verbal rocket from coach Jose Mourinho at the break and
the introduction of Karim Benzema lifted the players, however,
and the France striker sealed a 3-2 win with a well-taken goal.
Valencia have done well to keep pace with the big two during
the first half of the season and are four points behind Barca in
third ahead of Sunday's game at struggling Villarreal.
Valencia's less illustrious city rivals Levante, this year's
surprise package, are four points further back in fourth and
host Real Mallorca on Saturday.
Hopes are high at Atletico Madrid that new coach Diego
Simeone will help the capital's second club find the consistency
that will secure them a berth in European competition next
Argentine Simeone, a former Atletico player known for his
tough tackling and commitment, replaced the sacked Gregorio
Manzano last month and makes his debut at ambitious Qatar-owned
Malaga on Saturday.
An erratic campaign has left Atletico in 10th place and they
have lost seven of their 16 games and conceded four more goals
than they have scored.
"We are all very pleased with the new coach and we are
working very intensely and very hard," midfielder Juanfran told
a news conference on Wednesday.
"He was a great professional as a player and as a coach you
see the same characteristics," he added.
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