Barcelona, Madrid look to rebound from defeats

Barcelona and Real Madrid will look to forget about midweek Champions League stumbles by returning to winning ways in the Spanish league this weekend.

Russian champion Rubin Kazan stunned Barcelona 2-1 at the Camp Nou, while big-spending Madrid came apart as AC Milan rallied for a 3-2 win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Barcelona lacked its usual energy and imagination, while Madrid remains disjointed after spending €250 million ($365 million) on a host of stars in the offseason.

Barcelona leads La Liga with 19 points, one more than Madrid after seven games. Sevilla and Deportivo La Coruna are tied in third on 15.

Barcelona takes on Zaragoza on Sunday, while Madrid visits upstart Sporting Gijon on Saturday still trying to find its way without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo.

“We’re a team that’s still coming together,” Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini said after Madrid lost for the second time in three outings. “I have understandable worries, but … I think the team is performing adequately and we hope to improve.”

Barcelona fans are hoping Lionel Messi will return to form after some disappointing displays in the two matches since his return from national duty for Argentina. Barcelona’s attack has also been blunted as opponents have focused on disrupting the midfield play of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, which has often been the key to the team’s potent offense.

Guardiola said Tuesday’s performance, in which Barcelona outshot the Russian champions 24-3, was better than last week’s scoreless draw with Valencia.

“We moved the ball around better and we tried everything we could,” Guardiola said. “We were ourselves and we’ll never renounce that.”

The Catalan club also lost the services of Brazil defender Daniel Alves, who joins striker Thierry Henry on the sidelines with a leg muscle injury.

Further down the table, Atletico Madrid coach Abel Resino and counterpart Ernesto Valverde of Villarreal may both be out of a job come Monday if their teams don’t win.

Atletico has won only once in 10 games this season while Villarreal is still without a win and bottom of the league.

“This season, the ball doesn’t want to go in,” Resino said after his team slumped to a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea on Wednesday. “But I’m not frustrated and with every game I’m searching for solutions.”

Atletico needs to find a solution before it faces Mallorca, which is fifth with 13 points thanks to an attacking style that could exploit Atletico’s defensive frailties. Atletico has conceded a league-high 17 goals this season.

Villarreal plays fellow struggler Malaga, which is 19th in the league and only one point above it, without midfielder Robert Pires. Pires was suspended one game for verbally abusing a referee.

Sevilla – a convincing 3-1 winner at Stuttgart – will look to repeat its European form and make it four straight victories when it plays Espanyol on Saturday.

In Sunday’s other eighth-round games, it’s: Valladolid vs. Deportivo; Getafe vs. Athletic Bilbao; Racing Santander vs. Osasuna; Tenerife vs. Xerez; and Almeria vs. Valencia.