Barcelona: Barcelona and Real Madrid will look to rebound from disappointing Champions League performances in challenging tests on Sunday against Spanish league sides well suited to mimic the same tactics that led to the teams' downfall in Europe. Defensive-minded Mallorca will take hope from Celtic's 2-1 win over Barcelona when they hosts the league leaders, while Levante with their speedy forwards will try to follow the style used by Borussia Dortmund to draw 2-2 at Madrid on Wednesday.
Barcelona are enjoying a club-record start of nine wins and a draw to open an eight-point gap over defending champion Madrid. Second-place Atletico Madrid are three points adrift of Barcelona and hosts Getafe on Sunday in a Spanish capital derby. Barcelona's loss at Celtic Park on Wednesday were just their second under first-year coach Tito Vilanova after 17 games in all competitions.
The Scottish champions used their staunch defense to stymie Barcelona's passing attack built around the prolific Lionel Messi, and then showed perfect scoring efficiency by converting their only two chances to shock the Catalan side on Wednesday. Even so, Barcelona usually prevail in matches in which they dominates possession and scoring opportunities.
"We often play against teams that pack their defense inside their area and it makes it more difficult for us to create chances," said Barcelona defender Jordi Alba. "But it is nothing to get alarmed about." Mallorca coach Joaquin Caparros is well known in Spain for forging physical squads whose first priority is maintaining their defensive discipline. Mallorca had a good start to the season, staying unbeaten after the first five rounds. Since then, however, the team are on the slide with five consecutive defeats to sit 13th in the standings.
"We are in a difficult stretch," said Mallorca center back Tomas Pina. "But the season has a way to go, and as long as the squad can keep their spirits up we will be in good shape. This Mallorca can play much better. We will try to make it as uncomfortable as we can for Barcelona." Madrid, which was nearly overrun by Dortmund in the first half on Tuesday, were stunned last year in their visit to Levante. The 1-0 surprise victory launched Levante to their best season, finishing in sixth place and qualifying for the Europa League for the first time in club history.
Madrid's injuries piled up when the team lost both of their first-choice strikers on Tuesday. Karim Benzema was hurt before the game and Gonzalo Higuain forced to exit in the first half. Coach Jose Mourinho was already without backs Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao and will now have to piece together an attack around the always dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 18 goals this season in all competitions.
"We are going through a tough time with all the injuries," said Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas. "First Benzema and now Higuain. But we have a great squad and a coach who knows which substitutions to make in the right moment." Levante enters the game in good form. Juan Ignacio Martinez's team is unbeaten in the league at home this season, with four wins and a draw at Ciutat de Valencia stadium. It is also on a four-game unbeaten run in league play.
Madrid's defense will have to pay special attention to Levante striker Obafemi Martins, who has scored four goals in six league appearances. Levante midfielder Pedro Rios doesn't believe that Madrid's setback in Europe helps his team's chances. "I don't think it will influence the game, but if it did it would only go against us since they would arrive even more hungry for victory," Rios said.
Also Sunday, Valencia visit Valladolid after beating BATE Borisov in the Champions League, while Athletic Bilbao host Sevilla. Fourth-place Real Betis open the 11th round by hosting Granada on Friday and are trying to remain unbeaten in five straight games. Fifth-place Malaga play struggling Real Sociedad on Saturday, four days after qualifying for the knockout rounds in their maiden Champions League campaign following a 1-1 draw at AC Milan. Elsewhere on Saturday, it's: Rayo Vallecano vs Celta Vigo, Espanyol vs Osasuna, and Real Zaragoza vs Deportivo La Coruna.
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