Cup revenge on agenda for Real Madrid, Barca
Real Madrid hope to have Luka Modric and Marcelo back fit as they seek to exact revenge for their recent Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Celta Vigo when they return to Balaidos on Sunday.
Celta weathered a second-leg storm at home after pulling off a surprise 2-1 first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu to progress to the last four 4-3 on aggregate just over a week ago.
However, the roles from the second leg of that tie look set to be reversed as a far stronger Real side travels north with Celta boss Eduardo Berizzo set to make a series of changes with his side’s Cup semi-final, second leg away at Alaves on Wednesday in mind.
Modric and Marcelo have missed the last two games through injury, but both returned to training on Thursday and could feature.
The presence of Modric in midfield would be doubly important to Zinedine Zidane’s men with Toni Kroos suspended.
Berizzo has heavily rotated his Celta side in their past two La Liga outings to prioritise the Cup.
And with the Galicians just 90 minutes away from a first Cup final since 2001 with the tie against Alaves delicately poised at 0-0, the Argentine expected to do so again with the likes of top scorer Iago Aspas dropping to the bench.
– Barca host Bilbao –
Cup revenge will also be on Athletic Bilbao’s minds when they travel to face Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barca dumped Athletic out of the Copa del Rey for the sixth time in nine years in January and need a similar outcome to prevent Real running away with the title.
The champions trail their eternal rivals by four points having also played a game more after a disappointing display in drawing 1-1 at Real Betis last weekend.
Barca bounced back to remain on course for a fourth straight Cup final by beating Atletico Madrid 2-1 in their semi-final, first leg at the Vicente Calderon in midweek.
And Luis Enrique’s men could be handed a double injury boost themselves as Andres Iniesta returned to training on Thursday and Sergio Busquets is nearing a comeback form ankle ligament damage.
Enrique has defended his decision to rotate his squad throughout a demanding January and February of league and Cup commitments with a return to Champions League action at Paris Saint-Germain on February 14 also on the horizon.
“Between injuries, suspensions and tiredness, there is no other way. I rotate or we don’t challenge in all competitions,” Enrique said this week.
Therefore, Rafinha, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez are all likely to feature after being left on the bench in midweek.
Defeat to Barca in midweek left Atletico’s final season at the Calderon in danger of petering out without a trophy.
Diego Simeone’s men have failed to win in any of their last four games and face a fight just to qualify for the Champions League next season rather than battling Madrid and Barca for the title.
Atletico are 10 points adrift of their city rivals and just a point ahead of Real Sociedad in fourth.
However, they will be confident of a return to winning ways when lowly Leganes visit the Calderon on Saturday without a win in their last 10 games.
Third-placed Sevilla’s title ambitions were dealt a blow with a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol last weekend to leave them four points off the pace.
And Jorge Sampaoli’s men’s title credentials face another stiff test when sixth-placed Villarreal visit the Sanchez Pizjuan in the Sunday lunchtime kick-off.
Deportivo la Coruna v Real Betis (1945)
Malaga v Espanyol (1200), Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao (1515), Atletico Madrid v Leganes (1730), Valencia v Eibar (1945)
Sevilla v Villarreal (1100), Sporting Gijon v Alaves (1515), Real Sociedad v Osasuna (1730), Celta Vigo v Real Madrid (1945)
Granada v Las Palmas (1945)