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Barca hoping to defy off field distractions

24 Jan 2014 01:32:02

Barca hoping to defy off field distractions

Barcelona will try to put institutional uncertainty off the field behind them to remain on top of La Liga for a record 59th consecutive round of fixtures when they host Malaga on Sunday.

The Spanish champions have had an unsettling week as president Sandro Rosell resigned on Thursday after a judge agreed to hear a case made against him for alleged misappropriation of funds in the signing of Brazilian star Neymar last year.

However, coach Gerardo Martino shrugged off suggestions that movement in the boardroom could prove a distraction for his players.

"It's not really something which is a matter for the players or the coach," he said.

Neymar will not be available for selection in any case as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain.

There was some good news for the Catalans in midweek as they all but sealed their place in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey with a 4-1 win over Levante in the first leg of their quarter-final thanks to a hat-trick from Cristian Tello.

The real star of the show, though, was Lionel Messi as he showed a return to his best form with three defence splitting assists for Tello to fire home in the second-half.

"He can change any game. He can open any tight defence," added Martino.

"He didn't score, but he made three goals and he played for the team."

By the time Barca take to the field at the Camp Nou on Sunday night they could be down in third place.

Two consecutive draws for co-leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid has allowed Real Madrid to cut the gap at the top to just one point.

Los Blancos are the first of the title challengers in action this weekend as they host Granada at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Carlo Ancelotti's men have enjoyed a dream start to 2014 as they are on a run of eight straight victories and haven't conceded a goal in six games since the turn of the year.

In the midst of that run, captain Iker Casillas passed his own personal record for not conceding a goal in Real colours in the 1-0 win over Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.

And he believes his side have a great chance of claiming silverware on three fronts between now and the end of the season.

"We are alive in three competitions and we depend on ourselves. In the league we have made a great comeback which is very good for the confidence of the team," he told the club's website.

"In the Champions League we await Schalke and in the Cup we are going step-by-step with the objective of trying to get to the final."

Other than long-term absentee Sami Khedira, Ancelotti has a fully fit squad to choose from with Gareth Bale set to start once more after an upturn in the Welshman's form over the past week.

Atletico also have the chance to move to the top of the table for a few hours at least as they travel to face Rayo Vallecano in a Madrid derby on Sunday.

Atletico bounced back from successive league draws with a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey on Thursday and coach Diego Simeone denied his side are starting to feel the physical demands of competing in three competitions with a smaller squad than Madrid or Barca.

"The team is in very good shape. The whole group is ready for what is to come.

"It is normal that when the results don't arrive people look for reasons and presume the team is doing badly, but we know ourselves that we are not playing badly."

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Celta Vigo v Real Betis (1900)

Saturday

Real Madrid v Granada (1500), Valladolid v Villarreal (1700), Valencia v Espanyol (1900), Sevilla v Levante (2100)

Sunday

Almeria v Getafe (1100), Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao (1600), Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid (1800), Barcelona v Malaga (2000)

Monday

Real Sociedad v Elche (2100)


AFP

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