Fabregas targeting return to form for Barcelona
MADRID (AFP) –
Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas has highlighted the importance of getting back to winning ways against Deportivo la Coruna this weekend, ahead of the crucial Champions League clash with AC Milan on Tuesday.
The Catalans will have to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit against the Italians if they are to progress to the quarter-finals of Europe’s leading club competition.
However, Barca still hold an 11-point lead at the top of La Liga and Fabregas believes the visit of Depor could provide a significant confidence boost ahead of their return to European action.
“The Milan match is the most important one of the season, but the Deportivo one is important as well,” he told reporters.
“We have a good advantage over Atletico Madrid at the top and clearly we want to be league champions.
“If we don’t get a good result or play well then we won’t go into Tuesday with the same confidence.
“Everyone believes that this team can come back and it is a little unjust that after just three games people have started to doubt this team.”
Fabregas is expected to return to the starting line-up on Saturday after being an unused substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid last weekend, but he insists he won’t have a problem if he doesn’t start on Tuesday.
“Over the past seven years with the national team I have almost never been a starter but I have been there in some of the most historic moments,” he said.
“Sometimes a substitute can be more important than someone who starts and I feel stronger than ever.”
Barca will be without goalkeeper Victor Valdes, however, after he was banned for four matches for abusing referee Miguel Perez Lasa for failing to award them a penalty in the dying minutes of the defeat to Madrid.
Xavi Hernandez will also miss out as he continues to recover from a hamstring problem, but Pedro Rodriguez is fit despite suffering from flu-like symptoms earlier in the week.
Depor, meanwhile, have much bigger problems than their opponents this weekend as they sit bottom of the table, eight points from safety, and have yet to win away all season.
Should Barca somehow slip up, though, both Real Madrid and Atletico will be looking to take advantage on Sunday evening.
It is the champions who are first up as they look to build on an incredibly successful 10 days in which they have not only beaten Barcelona in the league, but also progressed to the Copa del Rey final and Champions League quarter-finals with victories away to Barca and Manchester United respectively.
Coach Jose Mourinho is expected to name his strongest side after resting a number of first-team regulars for their last two league games, but Angel di Maria has been ruled out for two weeks with a hamstring problem, whilst both Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso are both doubtful after playing with niggling injuries at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
Atletico face one of the league’s most in-form sides in Real Sociedad as they try to maintain their 100 percent record at the Vicente Calderon in the league this season.
A run of just one defeat in their last 17 games has taken Real Sociedad to within just two points of a Champions League place, but Atletico have been boosted themselves this week as their much-coveted coach Diego Simeone signed a new contract trying him to the club for the next four years.
Fixtures (Kick-off times in GMT)
Rayo Vallecano v Espanyol (1500), Valladolid v Malaga (1700), Barcelona v Deportivo la Coruna (1900), Mallorca v Sevilla (2100)
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia (1100), Levante v Getafe (1600), Celta Vigo v Real Madrid (1800), Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad (2000)
Real Zaragoza v Granada (1930)