Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Messi set for Barcelona return

Barcelona could welcome back Lionel Messi as they look to keep their Copa del Rey hopes alive against Athletic Bilbao.
Messi missed Sunday`s 2-1 league win over Levante after being given extra time off by Pep Guardiola, but he returned to training and could be a timely reinforcement for the trip to San Mames, where Barca will be hoping to book their place in the quarter-finals.
Barca face a tough test having been held to a goalless draw at home in the first leg, but they can take some cheer from
Athletic`s 2-1 home defeat to Deportivo La Coruna at the weekend - a result which brought to an end the Basque club`s six-match winning streak at home.
Nevertheless, Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets admits his side cannot afford to take Athletic lightly.
"There`s no margin of error in this game," the Spain international said. "We are going to a ground where they live and breathe football and the fans will be behind their team for the whole 90 minutes.
"I hope that Bilbao aren't as defensive as they were at the Nou Camp.
"It's a key game for us to be able to continue playing every three days or so, which suits us. Last year, when we went out to Sevilla, the weeks seemed much longer.
"We are used to playing every three or four days and it helps us maintain the dynamic of our season."
The match pits the two most successful sides in Copa del Rey history against each other - Barca having 25 crowns to Athletic's 23 - and is also a repeat of the 2009 final which the Catalan side won 4-1.
Whereas Barca have a fight on their hands to progress to the last eight, arch rivals Real Madrid have no such concerns as they chase a first cup success since 1993.
Jose Mourinho`s men trounced Levante 8-0 in the first leg, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both netting hat-tricks, and that makes Thursday's return meeting academic.
The remaining six ties are all close however, with holders Sevilla looking in the strongest position following their 5-3 first leg win over Andalusian rivals Malaga at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
However, Malaga have been busy bolstering their squad over the winter break, bringing in Ignacio Camacho, Sergio Asenjo, Enzo Maresca, Martin Demichelis and Julio Baptista, and coach Manuel Pellegrini could decide to give some of them their debuts in the second leg.
Atletico Madrid, who lost to Sevilla in last year`s final, boast a 1-0 lead over Espanyol but the return match will be in Barcelona on Thursday, where Mauricio Pochettino`s men have won seven of eight league matches this season.
In the other matches, local rivals Villarreal and Valencia meet at El Madrigal locked at 0-0, Almeria travel to the Balearic Islands holding a 4-3 lead over Real Mallorca, while Getafe beat Segunda Division leaders Real Betis 2-1 away in their first meeting.
Cordoba, who along with Betis are the only remaining non-Primera Division teams, drew 1-1 at home with Deportivo La Coruna.

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