Monday, March 19, 2012

Barcelona out to close gap on leaders Madrid


source: Agence France-Presse

MADRID - Barcelona take on Granada at the Camp Nou on Tuesday, knowing a win will take them to within five points of Real Madrid and pile the pressure on the leaders before they go to Villarreal on Wednesday.

A last-minute Santi Cazorla free-kick allowed Malaga to come away from the Santiago Bernabeu with a point on Sunday and saw Madrid's seemingly unassailable lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga trimmed to eight points.

Suddenly, there is a glimmer of hope for the reigning champions, despite Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola pouring cold water on suggestions that his side could still win the title after their 2-0 victory away to Sevilla on Saturday.

"We will not rest any of our players and there has not been a game we have not gone out to win," he said.

"But forget the title, we will not win it," he added.


Yet, there are 11 games still to play, including a "clasico" at the Camp Nou towards the end of April -- and Guardiola's players are not giving up just yet.

"Guardiola is entitled to his own opinion, he always talks with sense but we'll continue to compete, you have to ask him why he continues to say what he says," Dani Alves said, even before Madrid's slip-up against Malaga.

"I think you have to wait until the end of the season to see what happens, the gap is big but there are still a number of complicated games for both sides.

"We represent the best team in the world at the moment and need to remember that when we pull on the shirt in every game," added the Brazilian full-back.

Madrid had previously won a remarkable 21 times in 22 league games, with the 3-1 home defeat to Barcelona in December being the only blip in their domination before Sunday's setback.

After Sunday's game, in which Madrid had failed to kill-off a resolute Malaga side despite Karim Benzema heading them into the lead, goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was clear about the road ahead for "Los Blancos".

"I don't care what Guardiola says, only what my coach says and what we think ourselves. We never believed the league was won, we are still eight points ahead and the gap is still comfortable," he said.

Madrid are looking to return to winning ways against Villarreal, who have been one of La Liga's strongest sides in recent campaigns.

But this time around they are scrapping against relegation and sacked their second coach of the season after Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Levante.

Jose Francisco Molina had only managed three wins out of 11 games and none in the last five before his fate was sealed.

In his place comes Miguel Angel Lotina, with the former Deportivo coach given the task of guiding Villarreal to safety.

However, he could not face a more complicated game to start with than against Madrid.

Third-placed Valencia take on bottom club Zaragoza on Wednesday with Spanish international Roberto Soldado keen to add to the hat-trick he managed in Sunday's 3-0 victory in Bilbao.

The Valencia-born striker also hit three in only 45 minutes last month on his return to the Spain team in the 5-0 friendly win over Venezuela.

And with 15 league goals this season he finds himself in pole position for a place in Spain's Euro 2012 squad if he can continue his goalscoring form.

Elsewhere, Osasuna take on Getafe in Tuesday's other game, while fourth-placed Levante travel to Real Sociedad on Wednesday, when Sporting meet Mallorca and Europa League quarter-finalists Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao go head-to-head.

There are three games on Thursday, with Sevilla at Racing, Betis hosting Espanyol, and Malaga -- fresh from that draw in Madrid -- at home to Rayo Vallecano.

This midweek's fixtures:

Tuesday

Osasuna v Getafe (1900 GMT), Barcelona v Granada (2000 GMT)

Wednesday

Real Sociedad v Levante (1900 GMT), Sporting Gijon v Mallorca (1900 GMT), Valencia v Zaragoza (1900 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (1900 GMT), Villarreal v Real Madrid (2100 GMT)

Thursday

Racing v Sevilla (1900 GMT), Betis v Espanyol (1900 GMT), Malaga v Rayo Vallecano (2100 GMT)

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