In­jury-hit Barça hope to over­come their ‘Fifa virus’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE -

LEAD­ERS Barcelona host Granada to­day hop­ing to avoid another dose of the “Fifa virus”, the dip in form they have of­ten suf­fered in their first match back af­ter an in­ter­na­tional break.

In their two La Liga out­ings im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing their play­ers’ re­turn from na­tional duty this sea­son, Barça needed a last-gasp Alexis Sanchez goal to scrape past Sevilla 3-2 in Septem­ber and were held to a 0-0 draw at Osasuna last month, the only points they have dropped in 13 matches.

Their task against eighth­placed Granada has been com­pli­cated by a rash of in­juries to key per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Lionel Messi, play­maker Xavi and goal­keeper Vic­tor Valdes.

Messi is un­likely to play again be­fore mid-Jan­uary, Xavi is a doubt for to­day and Valdes, who has made a host of cru­cial saves this sea­son, is out for around six weeks.

Coach Ger­ardo Martino will be look­ing to Brazil for­ward Neymar, to shoul­der some of the bur­den of scor­ing and cre­at­ing goals in Messi’s ab­sence, while Chile’s Alexis has been in fine form for club and coun­try in re­cent weeks.

Barça are three points clear of sec­ond-placed Atletico Madrid, who host city ri­vals Getafe to­day af­ter Real Madrid, a fur­ther three points back in third, play at pro­moted Alme­ria.

Real’s Por­tu­gal for­ward Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, La Liga’s top-scorer with 16 goals, is on a high af­ter his bril­liant hat-trick against Swe­den on Tues­day se­cured his coun­try’s place at next year's World Cup fi­nals in Brazil.

The 28-year-old is close to un­stop­pable on cur­rent form but Real coach Carlo Ancelotti also has in­jury prob­lems to deal with, es­pe­cially in de­fence.

Ron­aldo’s Por­tu­gal team mate Fabio Coen­trao was hurt in the Swe­den game, while fel­low left back Marcelo has not played since dam­ag­ing his knee in train­ing on Novem­ber 8 and is not due back for another cou­ple of weeks.

Ancelotti will also have to shuf­fle his mid­field af­ter reg­u­lar starter Sami Khedira tore knee lig­a­ments play­ing for Ger­many last week and has been ruled out for six months.

Play­maker Isco, who started the sea­son strongly but has faded in re­cent weeks, could come in to play be­hind Real’s for­mi­da­ble at­tack­ing tri­dent of Ron­aldo, Karim Ben­zema and record sign­ing Gareth Bale, Ancelotti said this week.

Atletico have emerged as a gen­uine third force along­side wealthy Real and Barça, at least for the time be­ing, but face a stiff test against Getafe, who have out-per­formed this term and are sixth.

Atletico coach Diego Sime­one has in­fected his play­ers with the same fight­ing spirit he showed as a com­bat­ive mid­fielder and Messi had warm words of praise for his Ar­gen­tine com­pa­triot in Marca.

“Atletico is a very com­pet­i­tive team,” Messi said. “Some thought they wouldn't be able to main­tain the rhythm but car­ry­ing on from the end of last sea­son they are still fight­ing on all fronts.” – Reuters

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