Messi-less Barcelona target first home win
Champions Barcelona go in search of their first league home win of the season on Wednesday when they host Sporting Gijon at Nou Camp.
Pep Guardiola's side lost 2-0 to promoted Hercules in their first home match in the league but have bounced back with a 5-1 routing of Panathinaikos in the UEFA Champions League and a fine 2-1 win at rivals Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Barcelona sit sixth, one point behind Real Madrid and three points behind leaders Valencia, but must do without star man Lionel Messi for the next ten days after the Argentine damaged ligaments in his right ankle in the final minute of the Atletico win. Messi was the subject of a robust challenge from Czech defender Tomasz Ujfalusi who was sent off for the challenge which left Guardiola seething.
"We are happy with the Atletico win and it could have finished 5-1 with the number of chances we had," said Guardiola. "However, we are sad about the Messi incident. It is not only Cristiano Ronaldo (of Real Madrid) who needs protecting."
With Messi out the goals burden falls more on the shoulders of Spanish striker David Villa, a €40m signing from Valencia, who hopes to add to the solitary league goal he scored on his debut. It will be a special game for Villa who started his career at hometown club Sporting Gijon before becoming a world star with Valencia, Spain and now Barcelona.
Villa's old club Valencia were expected to struggle without his goals but the 2004 league champions top the table on a perfect nine points two ahead of Sevilla and Real Madrid. Valencia host fourth-placed Atletico Madrid at the Mestalla stadium on Wednesday looking to maintain their flawless start to the campaign.
Atletico have tasted back to back defeats to Aris Salonika in the UEFA Europa League and Barcelona in league after a promising start that began with a UEFA Super Cup win over Inter Milan and two league victories. Both Valencia and Atletico are expected to challenge for the Champions League spots this season and this is a crucial duel as the head-to-head record would count should both sides finish level on points.
Unbeaten Sevilla lie two points behind Valencia on seven points and hope to consolidate their strong start in the league with a home win over Racing Santander on Thursday.
Real seek momentum
Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid had a brief taste of top spot on Saturday before being replaced by Valencia and hope for another three points at home to Espanyol on Tuesday. Real were below par in a fortunate 2-1 win at Real Sociedad on Saturday with a deflected Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick gifting them three points.
Mourinho blamed the hectic match calendar for an average performance saying it was unfair to play Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday and then Sociedad three days later, however, there is no respite for his side as they take to the field again on Tuesday. "A draw would have been a fair result," admitted Mourinho. "However, a team that plays in the Champions League on Wednesday has to play on Sunday and can't be asked to play on Saturday."
Real conceded their first goal under Mourinho at Sociedad and looked vulnerable at the back which prompted Mourinho to smash a water bottle into the glass in the dug-out. The Portuguese coach watched his side jeered in their last league outing at the Santiago Bernabeu when they defeated Osasuna 1-0 so a polished display against Espanyol is expected from the hard-to-please Real public.
Elsewhere Athletic Bilbao host Real Mallorca on Tuesday with Bilbao's Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente looking to maintain his goal-a-game record after scoring in all three of Bilbao's league matches.
In other matches, promoted Levante travel to Almeria on Wednesday looking for their first points of the season after losing their opening three games.