Madrid, Barca face awkward foes before clasico

AP, Thursday 1 Dec 2011

While Real Madrid and Barcelona are already eyeing their upcoming matchup, the Spanish giants first have to get past a pair of awkward opponents this weekend

Real Madrid vs Barcelona
Real Madrid's Raul Albiol (L) grabs Barcelona's David Villa (Photo: AP)

League leader Madrid is waiting on the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo as it prepares to put its 13-game winning run on the line at Sporting Gijon on Saturday, when Barcelona welcomes early season revelation Levante to the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo missed training this week with an injury to his left ankle, but has not been ruled out of the trip to El Molinon. Madrid is hopeful midfielder Kaka will return for the first time in nearly one month from a calf injury.

Madrid has won nine straight domestic matches to open up a three-point advantage over its fiercest rival, which has played one more game. The pair meet for the seventh time this year on 10 December at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

“I have a lot of respect for Sporting. The three points in Gijon are worth as much as the three against Barcelona,” said Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso, who is suspended on Saturday. “It’s going to be a difficult game.”

Madrid squeaked out a 1-0 victory in Gijon last season, and Manolo Preciado’s team ended counterpart Jose Mourinho’s nine-year home unbeaten run with a 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu in April that also ended Madrid’s title hopes.

“It’s going to be difficult but we like challenges,” Sporting forward Miguel de las Cuevas told La Voz de Asturias newspaper. “Real Madrid will have to suffer if it wants to take points from Gijon.”

As well as Alonso, Madrid is without defender Ricardo Carvalho with a right knee injury, while fullback Alvaro Arbeloa remains a doubt against 18th-placed Sporting.

Barcelona bounced back from its first loss of the season at Getafe with a 4-0 victory against Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday.

The defending champions will be without defender Gerard Pique while Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas both returned from injury to play against Rayo. Brazil fullback Adriano injured his leg in training on Wednesday and will be sidelined for at least one week.

“It’s always important to bounce back with a victory,” Barcelona striker David Villa said. “Regardless of who we play, we always face the game in the same manner. We’ll head to the Bernabeu in different circumstances than past seasons, but with the same idea.”

Barcelona has outscored opponents 34-0 in its last eight games at the Camp Nou, while Levante is coming off its first victory in three games after it started the season with a nine-match unbeaten run to sit top of the standings for two rounds.

Madrid leads with 34 points after 13 games, Barcelona is next with 31. Valencia is third with 27 points while Levante has 26 to occupy the final Champions League place.

Valencia is at Espanyol this weekend, while fifth-place Malaga continues its chase for a European spot when it plays at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Malaga has won three of its last four to go to 23 points. Sociedad moved off the bottom after Inigo Martinez fired home a stoppage-time winner at Real Betis from just inside his own half.

“We’re calm and happy, we’ve opened up an important gap to the seventh-place team,” Malaga striker Sebastian Fernandez said. “Although it’s nothing definitive, it allows us to feel a little more relaxed.”

Malaga is two points ahead of Sevilla, which plays Getafe, and five points ahead of seventh-place Osasuna, which faces a Real Betis team that hasn’t won in nine games.

Last-place Racing Santander plays its first game since coach Hector Cuper and the club parted ways on Saturday against Villarreal.

In other matches, Atletico Madrid plays Rayo Vallecano in a Madrid derby, Mallorca faces Athletic Bilbao and Granada welcomes Zaragoza.

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