Barça seek Numancia revenge

Barcelona, having established a huge 12-point lead over Real Madrid and Sevilla, will attempt revenge on little Numancia, the only team to have beaten them in La Liga this season, on Saturday. The promoted side, who caused an opening-day upset with a 1-0 win, are fourth-bottom but dreaming of an unlikely double over the Catalan giants, who have won 16 games and drawn two since that shock defeat.

"After losing to Numancia I never imagined we'd have a first half of the season like this," admitted Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, whose side have earned a record 50 points for the midway point of the campaign.

We are on a good run and don't want it to end, although there will be a Numancia wall ahead of us.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi

Coach Pep Guardiola has been a revelation since taking over the reins from Frank Rijkaard, winning 25 of his first 31 games in charge - better even than the legendary Johan Cruyff. Barça drew 0-0 with local rivals Espanyol in Wednesday's Kings Cup quarter-final, first leg, and are now ready for revenge against Numancia.

"You always have thorns in your side," said midfielder Xavi. "We are on a good run and don't want it to end, although there will be a Numancia wall ahead of us."

Real Madrid have won the league title the past two seasons but overhauling Barcelona's lead is some task, and they need to continue winning against Deportivo on Sunday.

"If Barcelona continue like this then it will be very difficult for us. However, I think they will have a dip in form and we have to be ready to cut the gap," said Real's Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain.

Deportivo lost 5-0 to Barcelona last time out, but defeated Real 2-1 on the opening day of the campaign at the Riazor stadium. Real have won their last four games under Juande Ramos, and should be well rested having not had any cup commitments in midweek.

Off-the-field drama has not helped Real's cause, with Bernd Schuster axed and president Ramon Calderon resigning, while there is constant talk of which players will be arriving in the summer. AC Milan playmaker Kaka, having turned down a world-record switch to Manchester City, is one big name being mentioned.

Fight for places
Sevilla are also 12 points behind Barcelona and host Racing Santander on Sunday trying to keep up their league momentum. They lost 3-2 at Valencia in their Kings Cup first leg on Wednesday, but are a much stronger side at their intimidating Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. Valencia are four points behind Sevilla in fourth going into their match at Real Mallorca.

Atletico Madrid and their coach Javier Aguirre are having a difficult time at the moment and are poised to visit in-form Malaga, who have won four out of their last five league outings. Malaga won promotion last season and have been the surprise package this term, lying level on points with Sunday's opponents.

Aguirre has come under extreme pressure from the demanding supporters, but goalkeeper Leo Franco backed the Mexican. "The fact is that he's always reached the objectives set for him," said Franco. "He achieved great things at Osasuna and at Atletico he's done everything asked of him."

Espanyol, third-bottom and five points from safety, sacked Mane following a poor run of results, and their third coach of a testing season is a former player in Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentinian, 36, got a 0-0 draw with Barcelona in the cup on his debut, and his league bow is a trip to Valladolid on Sunday.