Casillas wants progress, Messi on the mend
Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas has stressed that with their UEFA Champions League campaign now on hold for two months, the team are firmly focused on playing catch-up in La Liga. Real's exploits in Group B - where they finished second - came to a conclusion on Tuesday with a 4-1 victory over Ajax.
Next up is Saturday's league trip to Real Valladolid and Jose Mourinho's men head into the contest lying third in the table, five points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid and 11 behind leaders Barcelona.
Those deficits will surely need to be reduced quickly if Real are to have any chance this season of reclaiming the league title they won last term, and it is something Casillas says he and his team-mates will be making every effort towards, particularly with there being no European commitments now until the Champions League resumes with the last 16 stage in February.
The goalkeeper told www.realmadrid.com: "The targets set for the end of the year are there. The pity is perhaps that the distance between us and Atletico in the league, despite us having reduced it last weekend (by beating them 2-0), and with Barcelona is quite big.
"We made it through to the next round of the Champions League and we expect a tough opponent in a difficult knockout tie, but between now and February there will be time to prepare. Now we want to focus on the league, and cut the points difference with the teams above, and keep getting through the rounds in the Copa del Rey."
Both Atletico and Barcelona are in action on Sunday, with the former hosting Deportivo La Coruna and the latter playing at Real Betis. Barça could be without forward Lionel Messi after he picked up a knee problem in Wednesday's 0-0 Champions League home draw with Benfica, although the Catalan club will be grateful that the injury is not more serious.
Messi left the field on a cart in the 84th minute after colliding with visiting goalkeeper Artur Moraes and the sight of their star player being taken off the pitch silenced the Barça fans, but there was relief soon after with confirmation that the complaint was no worse than a bruised left knee.
The Argentina international worked in the gym as his Barça team-mates trained outside today, and Messi said he still had a chance of playing at the weekend. "I feel fine, but I don't know yet if I will be available for Sunday," he said at a promotional event at the Nou Camp today. "I'll see. I am grateful for all the messages of support I have received."
Messi said he was hurt when he struck Moraes, but then tried to score with a curling shot before falling to the ground and clutching his knee. "I thought it was the last shot I was going to have for a long time," he said. "So I decided to gamble and hit it."
He added: "The truth is I did not think about anything because all I could feel was the pain. But in a moment I thought the worst. When it was shown it was not a severe injury I was calmer."
Espanyol entertain Sevilla tomorrow night to get the weekend's action under way, before Saturday's other games see Real Sociedad take on Getafe at home, Granada travel to Malaga and Valencia visit Osasuna. The two other matches on Sunday are Levante's home clash with Mallorca and Athletic Bilbao's with Celta Vigo, with Real Zaragoza then making the trip to Rayo Vallecano on Monday night to round things off.