La Liga

Barca fit despite international break

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BARCELONA

Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez expects his team-mates to be fit and firing for Saturday's Primera Division clash with Racing Santander despite the interruption of the international break.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola lost no fewer than 13 members of his first-team squad to the recent raft of friendlies and qualifiers for both Euro 2012 and the World Cup, with the club's Brazilian and Argentinian contingent only reporting back for duty yesterday.

With tiredness an overriding concern, Barca can at least take some comfort from the fact Saturday's opponents are labouring inside the relegation zone after failing to win any of their opening six matches - a record in stark contrast to Guardiola's side, who sit atop the pile after four wins and two draws in the same period.

The reigning champions are widely expected to maintain their unbeaten run come the final whistle on Saturday night, although should Racing cause an upset Pedro insists the international fixtures cannot be blamed.

"It is always hard to get back into shape after an international break," the 24-year-old told fcbarcelona.com.

"But we are training well, are fully confident, and in good shape.

"Racing have a great team and we expect a good game at the Camp Nou and to keep collecting points.

"Those who have been with our national teams are recovering strength, but I'm sure we'll be ready in time for this game.

"Because of the travel and the minutes played it is always hard to be at one's best after playing internationals, but we are confident and will be at 100 per cent against Racing."

Pedro could reach a notable personal milestone tomorrow, with two goals set to take him to a half-century of strikes for the Blaugrana, although he insists he is not preoccupied by the statistic.

"It will be difficult. It always is to get such figures, but I'm relaxed, it's not something that I'm obsessed with," he said.

Guardiola will welcome back Andres Iniesta from a hamstring tear, and although Cesc Fabregas remains sidelined, also with a hamstring problem, the former Arsenal captain could return against Sevilla next weekend.

Another hamstring-injury victim, Alexis Sanchez, is back with the squad after treatment in his Chilean homeland but will not feature, while Eric Abidal, another to suffer a hamstring injury in the opening weeks of the season, should be fit to play.

Ibrahim Afellay is definitely out after knee surgery.

Racing coach Hector Cuper this week described Barcelona's play as close to footballing perfection, admitting he had "never seen anything like it".

Certainly the match will be a huge challenge, but Racing's Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop is optimistic they can take heart from their goalless draw against Real Madrid last month and perhaps spring another surprise.

"We have to play together, show we are tight in defence like in the last few games and improve in attack," Diop told a press conference.

"It will be key to take advantage of the opportunities that we will be capable of creating and in the squad there are fast players who can cause damage down the wings on the counter-attack."
 

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