Barcelona and Madrid return to Spanish league fight after World Cup

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona and Real Madrid resume their fight for the Spanish league title as competition resumes after a seven-week World Cup hiatus.

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona and Real Madrid resume their fight for the Spanish league title as competition resumes after a seven-week World Cup hiatus.

When club play came to a halt in early November, Barcelona and Madrid were already threatening to make it a two-team race with nine points separating second-placed Madrid from third-placed Real Sociedad.

Barcelona have a two-point lead and host crosstown rivals Espanyol at Camp Nou on Saturday, a day before defending champions Madrid travel to Valladolid.

The Catalan club are under even more pressure to win their first league title since 2019 after failing in the Champions League group stage despite bolstering their squad this summer with funds they scooped up by selling part of its television rights and other assets.

“We have to be self-critical. We weren’t up to the task in the Champions League,” coach Xavi Hernández said recently. « I think we played well in the Spanish league. I’m hopeful that we can win this league. It would give the club some stability. That’s a priority. »

Xavi’s immediate concern is picking a striker to lead his attack with Robert Lewandowski serving a three-game suspension. Lewandowski earned a one-game suspension for two yellow cards in Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Osasuna in their last game in early November. The Spanish football federation added two more games to its suspension for Lewandowski’s ‘show of disrespect’ towards the referee when he pointed his nose twice after his dismissal.

Lewandowski and his league-leading 13 goals helped put Barcelona top of the table. Xavi will likely turn to Ansu Fati, Memphis Depay or Ferran Torres to replace the Polish striker against Espanyol and the following league games against Atlético Madrid and Getafe.

Several Barcelona players have featured in the World Cup, including Jules Koundé and Ousmane Dembélé, whose France lost in the final to Argentina and former Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

Xavi said the long break allowed injured defenders Ronald Araújo and Sergi Roberto to recover and be ready to play on Saturday.

Barcelona will host an Espanyol side who have just two wins this season and sit in 16th place, just one point above the relegation zone.

Madrid are back in action with Carlo Ancelotti trying to regain his league form after stumbling before the World Cup stoppage. A loss to Rayo Vallecano and a draw with Girona in two of their last three games before the break cost them the league lead.

Karim Benzema is set to be ready to play after his hopes of adding a world title to his Ballon d’Or award were ruined by a left thigh injury while training with France. Benzema has been hampered by injuries this season and has only made seven appearances in the Spanish league.

« We got Benzema back, which is very important, » Ancelotti said on Thursday. « A very motivated player has returned and we are convinced that he will give us a lot. »

Valladolid are in 12th place having won three of their last five games.


AP World Cup coverage: and

Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press


Back to top button