Little rest for Barcelona and Atletico, Real Madrid have advantage

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Madrid, Jan 1 (IANS) There is little time for FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to recover following their La Liga fixtures on Wednesday as they are both back in action on Saturday.

Barcelona, who lead Atletico Madrid on goal difference, make the short trip across town to play Espanyol in the city derby, reports Xinhua.

Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique will be able to call midfielder Arda Turan and winger Aleix Vidal into his squad with the end of the transfer embargo, while defender Gerard Pique will also play after being rested for Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Betis and the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will look to make the Espanyol defense suffer.

Atletico are at home against bottom of the table Levante, and Atletico coach Diego Simeone welcomes new arrival Argentine Augusto Fernandez into his squad after the midfielder completed his move from Celta Vigo on Friday.

Jackson Martinez and Angel Correa could be in line for a start, while Fernando Torres continues to wait for his 100th goal for the club.

Saturday also sees Malaga look for their fourth win in succession as they face Celta who lost at home to Athletic Club Bilbao on Wednesday.

Real Madrid have an advantage over Atletico and Barcelona as they don’t face Valencia away from home until Sunday and that advantage is even greater considering their rivals didn’t play their midweek game until Thursday.

Valencia’s 0-1 defeat to Villarreal leaves Gary Neville still searching for his first league win since taking over at the Mestalla Stadium. But the pressure on Neville is nothing compared to that of former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez, who was once again booed by fans in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday.

It is still thought that a defeat in Mestalla could cost Benitez his job and he will be hoping his footballers show more intensity than against Real Sociedad, where it needed a moment of magic from Cristiano Ronaldo and some help from the referee to get them out of trouble.

Casimiro could come into the starting 11 for the game with James Rodriguez dropping to the subs’ bench.

Sunday’s other matches see Villarreal, who moved into fourth thanks to their win over Valencia, travelling to sixth-placed Deportivo la Coruna. The result of that game will be of interest to Athletic Club Bilbao, who can close in on the top-four themselves if they win at home to an improving Las Palmas.

Athletic should recover Markel Susaeta for the game, but lose Benat and Aymeric Laporte through suspension.

Elsewhere, Rayo Vallecano need to end a five-game losing streak at home to Real Sociedad, while Sevilla can also take a big step towards Europe if they beat struggling Granada in an Andalusia derby.

Real Betis have to improve their home form against an Eibar side that is always difficult to beat, while the round of matches ends on Monday with Sporting Gijon and Getafe both chasing 3 points to climb away from the danger zone.


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