To main­tain Real chal­lenge

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

sure that they will make us suf­fer,” the French­man said after his team beat Cul­tural Leonesa 6-1 in their Span­ish Cup se­cond leg clash yes­ter­day.

“It’s a game we need to pre­pare well for but what­ever hap­pens, the re­sult isn’t go­ing to be de­ci­sive.”

De­spite Zi­dane’s protes­ta­tions, Barcelona know that de­feat would se­verely prej­u­dice their ti­tle am­bi­tions. They will be boosted by the re­turn of cap­tain An­dres Ini­esta, who has been out with a knee in­jury since be­ing taken off on a stretcher against Va­len­cia on Oct 22.

With­out the in­spi­ra­tional skip­per Barcelona have strug­gled, los­ing to Manch­ester City and draw­ing with Malaga, Real So­ciedad and Her­cules.

The lat­ter was a 1-1 tie in the Span­ish Cup yes­ter­day in Ali­cante, a game that did noth­ing to lighten the mood around Barcelona as a dif­fi­cult spell comes to a head to­mor­row.

Even their vic­to­ries in this pe­riod have been dis­ap­point­ing, with nar­row wins over Granada, Sevilla and Celtic un­der­lin­ing the prob­lems they en­coun­tered with­out the mas­ter lock-picker Ini­esta.

With his re­turn they are at full strength for the Cla­sico, al­though Jordi Alba is a doubt be­cause of an­kle and knee prob­lems.

Real Madrid are miss­ing Gareth Bale, who suc­cess­fully un­der­took an an­kle op­er­a­tion on Tues­day, which could keep him out for up to four months.

Star mid­fielder Toni Kroos is also un­avail­able after frac­tur­ing his metatarsal in his right foot against Leganes on Nov 6, with Isco likely to re­place him in the side.

Mean­while, third-placed Sevilla face fel­low An­dalu­sians Granada ear­lier in the af­ter­noon, while Atletico Madrid host Es­panyol in the evening.

It has been a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son thus far for Diego Sime­one’s side who cur­rently lan­guish nine points be­hind ri­vals Real Madrid, in fourth place. They will hope their 6-0 win over Gui­juelo in the Span­ish Cup yes­ter­day proves a catalyst.

The weekend’s other matches are Leganes vs Vil­lar­real, Real Betis vs Celta Vigo, Ath­letic Bil­bao vs Eibar, Alaves vs Las Palmas, Sport­ing Gi­jon vs Osasuna , Va­len­cia vs Malaga and De­portivo vs Real So­ciedad. – dpa

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