MADRID: Lionel Messi is expected to be fit as Barcelona make the tricky trip to Malaga on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) looking to move back to the top of La Liga.
Messi missed Wednesday’s 2-1 Copa del Rey win at Athletic Bilbao due to a hamstring problem that forced him off at half-time in a 6-0 rout of the same opponents last weekend, but returned to training on Thursday.
Barca will also have Luis Suarez back after he completed a two-game Cup ban in midweek as they look to exact revenge on the only side that stopped the European champions from scoring in their two meetings last season.
Malaga took four points from a possible six against Barca in La Liga last season and were only defeated 1-0 thanks to Thomas Vermaelen’s late strike when the two sides met at the Camp Nou earlier this campaign.
“We need to rest well because against Malaga we have had difficult games,” said Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic. “We need to have a lot of respect for them.”
Malaga have already aided Barca’s title challenge this year by holding Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu back in September and beating Atletico Madrid 1-0 last month.
“We have played great games against those high in the table this year and last season,” Malaga midfielder Ignacio Camacho told the club’s website.
“We need to play a very complete game to take any points.”
The hosts will be without Nordin Amrabat, though, after the Moroccan international completed his move to Watford on Monday.
Barca will be debilitated by the absence of defenders Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba through suspension and injury respectively.
Zinedine Zidane faces his toughest test yet as Real Madrid boss when his side travel to Real Betis on Sunday, but Los Blancos are still heavy favourites to deliver another convincing win.
Madrid have scored five times in disposing of Deportivo la Coruna and Sporting Gijon at home in Zidane’s two games in charge since replacing Rafael Benitez earlier this month.
The Frenchman will be without Gareth Bale, who suffered the recurrence of a calf problem that will keep him out for up to three weeks against Sporting, but otherwise has a fully-fit squad to choose from.
In contrast to Real’s free-scoring form, Betis haven’t scored in seven consecutive games as part of a 10-game winless run.
However, they did pick up an impressive point away to high-flying Villarreal under new boss Juan Merino.
“I am sure that if we continue like we did against Villarreal we will have chances,” said Merino.
“I have said to the squad to not be anxious, the goal will come.”
Should they be deposed by Barcelona on Saturday, Atletico Madrid can return to the top of the table ahead of their trip to the Camp Nou next weekend when they host Sevilla on Sunday.
Atletico have won nine of their last 10 league games, but showed signs of fatigue in labouring to a 0-0 draw at Celta Vigo in the first-leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.
“We knew that every game will demand more effort and work, but that is part of the responsibility of dealing with the demands of every game. Now we need to rest, eat well and prepare for the upcoming games,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
Valencia boss Gary Neville goes in search of his first La Liga win at the seventh attempt when Los Che visit Deportivo la Coruna.
And Chinese magnate Chen Yansheng will oversee his new club after completing a takeover of Espanyol as Villarreal look to strengthen their position in fourth at Cornella-El Prat.