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La Liga Weekend Preview

Barcelona’s Copa del Rey semi-finals win against Real Madrid has been tempered by a growing injury list that will make their clash against Villarreal on Saturday harder.

Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez both limped off in last night’s 2-2 draw, which secured a 4-3 aggregate win.

That means Barca will head to El Madrigal missing six players in total, as David Villa, Ibrahim Afellay and Andreu Fontas are already injured, while Seydou Keita is at the African Nations Cup.

“At the moment, we are not very many in number, but we must move forward,” said coach Pep Guardiola.

Although Villarreal sit 17th in the table, level on points with Granada in the relegation zone, their situation masks a decent home record, as they have lost only once at home this season.

The Yellow Submarine climbed out of the drop zone last weekend with a 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon, and veteran midfielder Marcos Senna is now looking forward to the next challenge with confidence.

“Playing against Barca is a privilege, although it will be a very hard match,” he said. “They are the strongest team, but we are looking forward to the match. After Saturday’s victory, we are more confident and relaxed.”

Real Madrid may be smarting from the latest setback against Barca, but have a five-point advantage at the top of the table as they prepare to host Real Zaragoza, and an earlier kick-off than Barca gives them a chance to put even more pressure on with a result.

With Villarreal having such a tough fixture, new Granada coach Abel Resino is optimistic of getting his side back out of the relegation zone when they travel to mid-table Real Betis, four points above them, on Sunday.

“I am convinced that we are going to retain our status in the Primera because there is a block of teams above us that we can gain ground on,” he said. “There are four of five teams in the table that are worse than Granada. If modest clubs don’t have ambition, they won’t achieve anything.”

Atletico Madrid have enjoyed a great start to life under Diego Simeone, taking seven points from from a possible nine and winning away for the first time in the league this season at Real Sociedad last weekend. They travel to Osasuna on Monday with the coach warning they cannot expect anything to come easy.

“I think we have to think in the next match against Osasuna because we have passed through a difficult moment and now we are beginning to grow and improve it is important not to take backward steps,” he said. “Osasuna is a difficult opponent and we have to continue with the humility and work that has brought us the recent results.”

Atletico have climbed up to eighth place, one point behind sixth-placed Osasuna in the last of the European places.
Valencia, who sit third, travel to face struggling Racing Santander, looking to extend or retain a four-point advantage over Levante who are home to Getafe.

Espanyol, fifth, tackle Real Mallorca on Saturday. Also on Saturday, Rayo Vallecano host Athletic Bilbao, while on Sunday, Sporting are away to Real Sociedad and Sevilla travel to Malaga.