MADRID: It has been a stuttering start to the new year from all-conquering Barcelona and the treble winners hope for their first win of 2010 tomorrow at promoted Tenerife.Barcelona were let off the hook last weekend when their 1-1 home draw against Villarreal went unpunished – as Real Madrid drew 0-0 at Osasuna – so they still hold a two-point lead over their rivals but confidence was dented further by Tuesday’s 2-1 Kings Cup first leg defeat to Sevilla at Camp Nou.
“We have had an unlucky start to 2010 failing to win either match, but there is no need to panic,” said midfielder Sergi Busquets. “The results will start coming very soon and we’ll be playing for all the titles at stake.”
Barca must do without top-scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic through suspension but Argentine Lionel Messi will be back.
The club are also boosted by the return of Argentine centre-back Gaby Milito who played his first competitive match since April 2008 against Sevilla after cruciate knee ligament injuries threatened to end his career.
Tenerife have a decent home record losing just two of their eight matches and are the only promoted side not in the bottom three although they are only two points above the drop zone.
Real had a midweek rest having already exited the Kings Cup and after a scoreless draw at Osasuna the league’s top-scorers hope to get back on the goal trail with a home victory over high-flying Real Mallorca tomorrow.
“The point against Osasuna left a bitter taste in our mouth but now we have to focus on getting three points against Mallorca,” said Real striker Gonzalo Higuain.
Real boss Manuel Pellegrini must do without the suspended duo of Lass Diarra and Sergio Ramos for the Mallorca visit but Brazilian Kaka may return as he recovers from a groin injury.
Mallorca have won eight out of eight at home to move fourth in the table but are poor travellers with just one win on the road although coach Gregorio Manzano pointed to the fact that the islanders won 3-1 at the Bernabeu last season.
“I can see us winning at the Bernabeu just like we did last year and other times before,” said Manzano. “I dream of winning there again.”
If Mallorca can get a point or pull off another big win in Madrid it would leave them as the team with the only perfect home record in the league.
Sevilla may have beaten Barca in the cup but they have lost their last two league matches and surrendered fourth spot to Mallorca falling to fifth ten points behind leaders Barcelona.
Sevilla host an improving Racing Santander today with a mounting injury list while Frederic Kanoute and Didier Zokora are on international duty for the African Cup of Nations.
Valencia, six points behind second-placed Real Madrid, have taken advantage of Sevilla’s troubles to steal into third and are at bottom side Xerez tomorrow.
Xerez are eight points from safety having won just one game all season and overworked goalkeeper Renan Brito, on loan from Valencia, hopes to get one over on his old side.
“It is going to be strange for me because it is the first time I have faced my old teammates,” said Brito.
“We need to end this run and be strong to try and hurt Valencia.”
Elsewhere Atletico Madrid need to put in a good display at Valladolid today to win over their disgruntled fans who watched 10-man Atletico crash to a 3-0 first leg defeat at second division Recreativo Huelva on Wednesday in the last 16 of the Kings Cup.
“I want to ask for forgiveness from the fans for this huge disappointment,” said manager Quique Sanchez Flores.
“I have to look for players that are not going to disappoint me any more.”
As it stands Atletico are in mid-table after a terrible start but are 11 points off the European places and need to improve vastly in the second half of the season. — AFP