Brief news from La Liga
ahead of this weekend's matches:
Leaders Real Madrid have Angel di Maria available for
Saturday's match at home to struggling Racing Santander,
coach Jose Mourinho said on Friday.
"He could have played [last week] against Levante but he
needed a few more days recuperation and now he is definitely
ready to return," Mourinho told a news conference.
The Argentina winger, who has made 13 assists in the league
this season, has been struggling with a thigh problem and has
not played since the turn of the year.
With champions Barcelona not hosting third-placed Valencia
until Sunday, a win for Real at the Bernabeu would put
them 13 points clear of their arch rivals in second, although
Mourinho warned against complacency.
"The situation is a good one for us and a difficult one for
them, that seems obvious and logical to me,' he said.
"But there are a lot of tough games left and Barca are
perfectly capable of winning 10 games in a row and if you lose
one then you start to have problems," the Portuguese added.
Barca are without the suspended Javier Mascherano and
Daniel Alves for the game against Valencia at the Nou Camp,
meaning coach Pep Guardiola will be forced to shuffle his
Captain Carles Puyol, Adriano Correia or B team player
Martin Montoya could replace Alves at right-back, while Puyol's
place in central defence could be taken by left-back Eric Abidal
or midfielder Sergio Busquets.
Barca have midfielder Seydou Keita back from the Africa Cup of Nations, where his Mali side finished third and he was
selected for the team of the tournament.
Keita was given a round of applause by his team-mates at
training on Thursday, as was Netherlands midfielder Ibrahim
Afellay, who did some work on the pitch for the first time since
he injured a knee five months ago and needed surgery.
Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes has urged Guardiola to
agree a contract extension beyond the end of this season, saying
the former midfielder is a vital ingredient of the club's
spectacular recent success.
"It's his decision of course but I hope he continues and for
as many years as possible as he is key to this team," Valdes,
one of the club captains, told a news conference.
Guardiola prefers to renew his deal with the Spanish,
European and world champions on an annual basis and as the
season has slipped by mutterings about the possibility of him
leaving have grown in volume.
Sporting Gijon's new coach Javier Clemente makes his debut
at home to Atletico Madrid on Sunday as the former Spain
boss begins the daunting task of saving the struggling Asturians
Atletico are on a high after a 3-1 Europa League win at
Lazio on Thursday but coach Diego Simeone said they must forget
the euphoria and focus on a match against a "super-motivated"
Gijon he predicted would be "very tough".
"They have a very capable and very intelligent coach, who
has a great deal of mental strength," former Argentina captain
Simeone, who took over at Atletico at the end of last year, told
a news conference after the Lazio win.
Atletico, who are sixth on 31 points, are one of six teams
battling for Spain's fourth Champions League qualification
place, along with Levante, Espanyol, Malaga, Osasuna and
Fourth-placed Levante, who have 32 points, host Rayo
Vallecano on Sunday, while Espanyol, in fifth also on 32
points but behind on goal difference, play at Getafe on Saturday.
Malaga and Bilbao, who have 30 and 31 points in seventh and
ninth respectively, meet at the San Mames on Sunday and
eighth-placed Osasuna, also on 31, play at Sevilla on Saturday.
In a congested lower half of the table, only seven points
separate Levante in fourth from 17th-placed Granada, with
Santander, Gijon and Real Zaragoza occupying the three
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