Real Madrid goalkeepers Iker Casillas (R) and Diego Lopez take part in a training session at Valdebebas sports complex in Madrid yesterday.Real Madrid will face Betis in a Spanish Primera Division match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium today. (EPA)
Amid a defensive crisis at the club, Barcelona defender Marc Bartra has vowed to hold down a place at centre-back in the final weeks of the season.
Injuries to Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano have meant the 22-year-old has started each of Barca’s last three league games. And with Adriano suspended for Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first-leg against Bayern Munich, he could well partner Gerard Pique in Germany.
“When there are difficult games you try to give your best. I have spent the whole season preparing for when my moment came,” he told a press conference on Thursday.
“I will try to do my best. Physically I am good and every time I play I feel better.”
Barca need just three more wins to seal a fourth title in five seasons - even assuming no Real Madrid slip-ups in the coming weeks.
Bartra is delighted with how the Catalan club have managed to stay focused in La Liga, having led from the front for most of the season.
“It is not easy, even when you are so many points in front.
“We haven’t relaxed, even when having the Champions League games we have had. It is not easy to be so many points in front and maintain that distance. The work we have done is something to be proud of,” he said.
Lionel Messi returned to training on Thursday as he continues to recuperate from a hamstring injury but the Argentinian is not expected to play any part in Saturday’s clash with Levante to ensure he is fit for the trip to Munich.
Sergio Busquets is also likely to miss out this weekend as he is still struggling with a pelvic injury, whilst the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Pique could be rested. However, Levante captain Sergio Ballesteros doesn’t believe Messi’s absence will have a major impact on the game. “Barcelona have played some games without Messi and they continue to be Barcelona,” he indicated Wednesday.
“In key moments you can depend on your best player, but as a team they don’t need him to win games.
“If he plays it will be a confidence boost for them and if he does not, as they showed in Zaragoza, they are capable of beating anyone because they have an extraordinary squad.”
Real Madrid are also in action today as they take on Champions League chasing Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu. Los Blancos are on Champions League duty themselves in midweek against Borussia Dortmund and after naming a surprisingly strong side for the 3-0 win at Athletic Bilbao last weekend, Jose Mourinho is expected to return to his policy of resting key players ahead of big European games.
Xabi Alonso will certainly miss out as he is suspended, whilst Michael Essien is still out with the muscle strain he suffered against Galatasaray last week. Should Real slip up, Atletico Madrid could move level with their neighbours in second place ahead of their meeting in the Madrid derby next weekend.
Atletico travel to Sevilla in tomorrow’s late game with the hosts looking to exact revenge after Diego Simeone’s men beat them to reach the final of the Copa del Rey back in February.
And at the bottom there is a huge clash on Monday night as bottom-placed Celta Vigo look to give themselves a lifeline against Real Zaragoza, who slipped into the bottom three last weekend and have yet to win a league game this year.
Mourinho admits departure comments
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho yesterday admitted that reported comments claiming his future lay away from the Spanish club were accurate but denied that he was “sad or unhappy” at the Santiago Bernabeu. Earlier this week, press in Spain widely reported comments by Manuel Alvarez, the president of CD Canillas, a club from the north of Madrid where Mourinho’s son is a player. Alvarez claimed that during a chat with Canillas coaching staff on Monday, Mourinho announced he would not be in Madrid next year to take part in the annual meeting.
At his yesterday press briefing ahead of Real Madrid’s Liga clash with Betis on Saturday, Mourinho verified the comments -- but encouraged reporters not to read too much into them.
“I can confirm that, when I was asked if I would be here next season, I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I said that I didn’t think I could be there for next year’s meeting,” said the Portuguese. “I am neither unhappy nor sad at Real. “I have already said that my relationships with the president (Florentino Perez), with Jose Angel Sanchez (the sporting director), with the club, were good,” he continued.
“Normally, when you get to these situations, there are problems between the club and the coach but here that is not the case because we get on.
“The best thing for us right now is to beat Betis, get to the Champions League final and win the Copa del Rey final, and then after that we can discuss what is best for everyone.” Madrid face Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final next week and will face city rivals Atletico in the Copa del Rey final next month. Throughout the course of his third season at the club, Mourinho has continually insisted that his future would not be decided until the close season. The former Chelsea and Inter Milan coach is under contract until 2016. However, last week, Spanish daily El Pais claimed that Chelsea had made an offer to Mourinho in March in a bid to tempt him back for next season. The paper added that Mourinho had not yet signed anything because of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s refusal to hand him full responsibility for player recruitment. Meanwhile, the Portuguese confirmed that goalkeeper Iker Casillas would again be on the bench against Betis as Diego Lopez continues between the posts. “Tomorrow (Saturday), Casillas will be on the bench, but he is in perfect condition to play, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back playing again one day,” he said. Casillas has not played since February 23, becoming second fiddle to Lopez, who was brought back to the Bernabeu for a second spell when the Spain captain suffered a fracture to his left thumb. In addition, Sami Khedira and Sergio Ramos will not play against seventh-placed Betis in order to keep them fresh for the trip to Dortmund. “(Alvaro) Arbeloa is injured and suspended in the Champions League so we only have Ramos as a right-back, meaning we can’t take any risks,” Mourinho said to explain the former Sevilla defender’s absence this weekend. With Michael Essien also missing due to injury, the right-back berth against Betis will either be filled by Frenchman Raphael Varane or youth product Nacho.
(all times GMT):
Granada v Valladolid (1400), Real Madrid v Real Betis (1600), Barcelona v Levante (1800), Valencia v Malaga (2000)
Getafe v Espanyol (1000), Deportivo la Coruna v Athletic Bilbao (1300), Osasuna v Real Sociedad (1700), Sevilla v Atletico Madrid (1900)
Celta Vigo v Real Zaragoza (2000)