Real bid to pile on pressure as injuries hit Barca
MADRID: Real Madrid get back to Spanish league action with a home game against bottom side Zaragoza on Saturday after the disappointment of their Spanish Cup exit to Barcelona in midweek.
With a five-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga, Madrid will be looking to put pressure on the Catalans who play away at Villarreal immediately after their game.
On Wednesday night the two giants shared four goals in the second leg of the Spanish Cup Quarter Finals, in a fiery match full of controversial refereeing decisions, that saw the holders Real knocked out after Barca’s 2-1 victory in the capital the week before.
Real were the better side on the night and will have regained some much needed confidence after the first leg defeat, but ‘los blancos’ left Barcelona complaining bitterly after claims for at least three penalties were turned down.
Fresh from the loss, Real captain Iker Casillas was in a defiant mood and both keen to forget the disappointment in the Nou Camp and look ahead to Saturday’s game.
“To lose is allowed, but it is compulsory to pick yourself up,” he said.
“We have to forget the Cup and not worry about what happened in Barcelona but think about the game against Zaragoza.
“Our goals now have changed, we have to fight to keep our advantage in the league and we face a Champions League quarter-final in three weeks time. We have great potential in our side and we are growing stronger as the seasons pass.”
Saturday’s visitors Zaragoza find themselves in a perilous situation at the bottom, six points adrift of Sporting Gijon and seven from Granada and Villarreal.
Barcelona have their own problems after the clasico, injuries to Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez having further depleted a squad already hit by a large number of absentees.
Iniesta limped out of the Madrid game on 29 minutes with a recurrence of a thigh injury that is due to keep him on the sidelines for three weeks.
Sanchez took a tumble towards the end of Wednesday’s match damaging his collarbone and is expected to be out for up to two weeks.
Others on the long-term injury list include Ibrahim Afellay, Andreu Fontas and David Villa, with the last two unexpected to return this season.
“Just because there are less players available we don’t want to play less matches and have more rest, this is Barcelona, we’ll carry on with what we’ve got and not make excuses like we have always done,” Cesc Fabregas said.
“We are where we want to be in semi-finals of the cup and we sit second in the league, it’ great to be at this club and enjoy this support and we owe it to the fans to keep going.”
Pep Guardiola, as always, will look to Barcelona’s youth policy in the coming weeks to plug the gaps in his squad.
Youngsters such as Sergi Roberto, Isaac Cuenca and Jonathan Dos Santos, who have all featured already this season, will be expected to step up.
In other games third-placed Valencia, who sit nine points behind Barca, travel to struggling Racing Santander on Sunday, while there is an Andalusian derby in Malaga where Sevilla are the visitors.
On Monday the much improved Atletico Madrid, for whom new coach Diego Simeone has fixed a leaky defence that is yet to concede a goal in the league since his return to the club having gained seven points in three matches, visit sixth-placed Osasuna who sit just one point ahead of the side from the capital.
Espanol v Mallorca (1700 GMT), Rayo Vallecano v Athletic Bilbao (1700 GMT), Real Madrid v Zaragoza (1900 GMT), Villarreal v Barcelona (2100 GMT)
Real Betis v Granada (1100 GMT), Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon (1500 GMT), Levante v Getafe (1500 GMT), Racing Santander v Valencia (1700 GMT), Malaga v Sevilla (2030 GMT)
Osasuna v Atletico Madrid (2000 GMT)