La Liga preview: Barca look to edge clear
By Football News
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid return to Liga action on Saturday after both clubs won fourth round Copa del Rey ties this week.
Joint Liga leaders Barcelona won their first-leg tie at Alaves 3-0, a match which saw reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto struck by an object thrown from the crowd.
Regular shot-stopper Victor Valdes will return to the starting line-up for the visit of promoted side Celta Vigo to Camp Nou, with Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez also likely to feature after being rested against third-tier opposition.
Barca's last league match saw them romp to a 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, while their opponents Celta Vigo, 13th in the standings, were held 1-1 at home by Deportivo La Coruna.
Atletico, meanwhile, who are level on 25 points with Barca at the top of the table, also enjoyed success in the cup, beating Jaen 3-0 away from home.
They face a testing examination away to an underperforming but dangerous Valencia team, whose position on the table - 11th - belies their status as one of the league's best teams outside powerhouse pair Barca and Real Madrid.
With Valencia struggling, Malaga have moved into third place, seven points back from the top two.
Expected to struggle after losing several key players in the close-season, the team from La Rosaleda have defied expectations to challenge on two fronts, with Manuel Pellegrini's team also impressing in their debut Champions League campaign.
On Saturday they host Rayo, who, perhaps still showing the effects of their thumping at home to Barca, went down 1-0 away to Las Palmas in the Copa del Rey.
The other match on Saturday sees champions Real Madrid welcome Real Zaragoza to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Jose Mourinho's title-holders appear to have recovered from their slow start to the season, registering a 5-0 win at Mallorca in the league before dispatching Alcoyano 4-1 away from home in the cup.
Madrid are eight points behind fierce rivals Barca and Atletico, and can ill afford to drop more points if they are to keep pace with the front-runners.
On Sunday Athletic Bilbao will hope their fortunes improve when they go away to Granada.
Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic team, Europa League and Copa del Rey finalists last term, are just one point outside the relegation zone and were held 0-0 at lower league side Eibar in the cup on Thursday.
In other matches, Real Sociedad host second-bottom Espanyol, while Deportivo La Coruna, also in the relegation zone, await the visit of mid-table Mallorca.
Valladolid travel to face bottom side Osasuna, and sixth plays seventh respectively as Levante host Sevilla.
On Monday, fifth-placed Real Betis make the trip to Madrid, where they will take on Getafe.