Barcelona battles fatigue from international week
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -Barcelona hopes to avoid a slip against Getafe on Sunday as its players fight fatigue from international friendlies midweek, and with Atletico Madrid lurking nine points adrift of the Spanish league leader.
Barcelona will play the better-rested Getafe at home, and will be missing injured playmaker Xavi Hernandez.
Nine Barcelona players logged minutes in Spain's 3-1 win over Uruguay in Doha on Wednesday. Lionel Messi helped Argentina win in Sweden 3-2, and various other international players also face a quick turnaround for the Catalan club.
"It was a very long trip, about six to seven hours. We arrived this morning and we haven't had time to rest,'' said Barcelona defender Jordi Alba. "But we have the rest of the day and tomorrow to get fit for the game on Sunday.''
Barcelona has been practically unbeatable this season, and has a home league record of nine wins and a draw. Even so, Barcelona has proven vulnerable of late with a draw and a loss in its last two away games in league play to go with a pair of draws in the Copa del Rey.
Messi will try to extend his record run of having scored in 12 consecutive games, while fellow forward Pedro Rodriguez enters off a brace for Spain. However, he will be missing one of his favorite assist makers in Xavi, who is out for two weeks with a muscle injury in his right leg.
Getafe has wins at home over Madrid and Malaga, but has yet to come up with a quality victory on the road this season.
"The absence of Xavi will affect them,'' said Getafe captain Jaime Gavilan. "Besides, they have several players who just made long journeys and haven't had a chance to rest. Why can't we pull off a surprise?''
Atletico visits upstart Rayo Vallecano in a Spanish capital derby on Sunday looking to break a run of four away games without a victory.
Rayo has won its last three games at Vallecas Stadium and has an impressive record with seven wins in 10 home games this season for a team many expected to fight to avoid the drop.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone called his team's more humble crosstown rival "dangerous.''
"Rayo doesn't have a single player who doesn't know how to take care of the ball,'' said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. "It's a team that wants to carry the initiative. It presses across the entire pitch and has great wingers and good midfielders as well.''
Third-place Real Madrid hosts Sevilla on Saturday as it tries to bounce back from its latest stumble, a 1-0 loss at Granada last weekend, which left the defending champions trailing Barcelona by 16 points.
Jose Mourinho's Madrid could get a boost from the return of Portugal defender Pepe, who practiced with his teammates this week for the first time since having ankle surgery in early January. Otherwise, its players could have the same tired legs as Barcelona's after their international commitments.
Sevilla beat Madrid at home this season and has been playing better since former Valencia manager Unai Emery took over last month.
Journeyman coach Gregorio Manzano will begin his third stint at the head of Mallorca on Saturday when the struggling club hosts Osasuna.
Manzano, who coached Mallorca from 2002-03 and 2006-10, returned to the Balearic island team on Tuesday after Joaquin Caparros was fired following just one win in 17 games and with the team in second-to-last place.
"Changing coaches is always complicated,'' said Mallorca midfielder Jose Marti. "(But) Saturday's game should be a turning point that gives us back our confidence. It will be key.''
Also on Saturday, fourth-place Malaga visits a Levante on a three-game home winning streak. Last-place Deportivo La Coruna hosts Granada five points from safety, and Valencia travels to relegation-threatened Celta Vigo.
Real Sociedad has lost only once in 12 rounds and visits Real Zaragoza also on Sunday, while Athletic Bilbao hosts an improved Espanyol that has just one defeat in nine matches under coach Javier Aguirre.
Fifth-place Real Betis hosts Valladolid on Monday with a chance to move into the top four spots and claim a Champions League place if Malaga falters.
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