Barcelona, Real Madrid have defensive worries
MADRID - The Associated Press
Barcelona midfielder Lionel Messi (L) controls the ball past Real Madrid’s Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos (2nd R) and Pepe (R) during the El Clasico at Nou Campon Oct 7. REUTERS PhotoDeportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo will look to capitalize on Barcelona and Real Madrid’s defensive frailties on Saturday when the Spanish league returns from the international break.
Barcelona travels to face Deportivo with an eight-point advantage over Madrid. The Catalan team remains without defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol as it vies to extend its unbeaten start to eight games.
Madrid’s defense is without backs Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao, while center back Raphael Varane is also a doubt. Gonzalo Higuain could also miss out against Celta Vigo, while fellow striker Karim Benzema also came off before the end of France’s match with Spain to avoid injury.
Cristiano Ronaldo can look forward to getting back to club play - where he has scored 10 goals in his last five games - following a poor run with Portugal in World Cup qualifying.
“I am sure the manager is looking for solutions. First for Saturday and then also for the Champions League game next week,” Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “Whoever plays, reserves or otherwise, we are here to help.”
Ronaldo failed to score in a loss to Russia and 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland, where he hardly celebrated his 100th international appearance for Portugal. Lionel Messi, who has scored 12 goals for Barcelona this season, continued his early season scoring spree with three goals in two games for Argentina.
Barcelona teammate David Villa will hope to play in attack on Saturday at the Riazor Stadium against an opponent he has scored 11 goals against in 14 appearances.
“I have to remain patient, but I want to and am ready to play,” Villa said. “I know my leg will respond. I’m not so sure about my conditioning but I am ready and waiting on the decision of the coaches.”
Barcelona said Thursday that Alex Song had yet to rejoin the club from Cameroon because of “bureaucratic problems.”
Deportivo has struggled without a win in the six games since opening the season with a victory, while Celta has won two of three.
Atletico Madrid will look to continue its unbeaten start and stay at the top alongside Barcelona when it travels to Real Sociedad on Sunday. Atletico and Barcelona both have 19 points, followed by Malaga with 14. Real Betis is next with 12 points, with Madrid, Sevilla and Mallorca trailing with 11.
Radamel Falcao, who has 11 club goals for Atletico, scored twice for Colombia on Friday to continue his strong season.
“Everything that Falcao has done he’s worked for. The best thing about him is his ambition to improve,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said before turning his attention to the match at Anoeta Stadium. “We need to play with personality. I don’t like any feeling of complacency. I prefer that the team is attentive and concentrated.”
Atletico will likely be without influential playmaker Arda Turan after the Turkey midfielder returned from World Cup qualifying with a right ankle injury. Defender Juanfran Torres will also look to re-establish his confidence after turning the ball over to set up France’s equalizing goal against Spain on the last rush of the game on Tuesday.
Malaga will look to bounce back from its first loss of the season against Valladolid, which comes ahead of its Champions League match against AC Milan.