Barcelona hosts Deportivo before turning to Club World Cup
BARCELONA: After back-to-back draws, Barcelona is looking to get back on the winning track before it heads to Japan to play in the Club World Cup.
Barcelona's lead over Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league was trimmed to two points after the defending champions were held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia.
That was followed by a 1-1 draw at Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game for a Barcelona side that had already locked up first place in its qualifying group.
But the team needs to rediscover its dominant form when it hosts the surprising Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday. It then takes the long trip to Japan, where it will play the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Dec. 17.
Here are some things to know about this weekend's Spanish league matches:
Barcelona will most likely be without Neymar, who leads the league with 14 goals, for a second straight game after the Brazil striker hurt the left side of his groin during practice.
Neymar missed the start of the season because of mumps, but since then has scored 16 goals in all competitions, second only to Luis Suarez's team-high 19.
"Injuries are always unpleasant," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "The time he takes to recover will depend on him and the doctors."
Suarez rested against Leverkusen, while Lionel Messi scored the Spanish side's goal while playing with several reserve team players.
After five years of either struggling at the bottom of the table or twice being relegated to the second division, Deportivo unexpectedly finds itself among the front-runners.
The northwestern club that had its heyday in 2000 when it won the league title has risen to sixth place, largely thanks to the outstanding form of striker Lucas Perez.
Often left alone to create chances, Perez has scored a team-high 10 goals this season, the same as Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
"We have hope we can get a good result because the team is playing well," Deportivo defender Luis "Luisinho" Correia said. "It is the ideal moment to play Barcelona."
Making as little noise as possible, Atletico Madrid has slipped back into the title hunt thanks to its no-nonsense style based on the league's stingiest defense.
Atletico's 2-1 victory at Benfica to win their Champions League group on Tuesday was its seventh in a row across all competitions, and its 13th consecutive match without a defeat.
While only scoring 20 goals compared to Barcelona's 34 and third-place Real Madrid's 32, Atletico has resorted to a defense anchored by center back Diego Godin and goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
The Slovenian goalkeeper has only conceded six goals in the league. The next best defense is Valencia's with 11 goals allowed.
Oblak will next face Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz, who has scored 10 times in the league at home.
RONALDO ON ROLL
Ronaldo scored four goals to lead Madrid in its 8-0 rout of Swedish side Malmo in the Champions League this week.
The lopsided win was just what coach Rafa Benitez needed to ease pressure on him following a 4-0 loss to Barcelona and the club's embarrassing disqualification from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player.
Madrid trails Barcelona by four points and faces a tough match at fifth-place Villarreal on Sunday.
NEVILLE'S 2ND CHANCE
Gary Neville had a bad debut as a head coach when his Valencia team slumped to a 2-0 home loss to Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday.
It was little solace that even a win wouldn't have qualified it for the knockout rounds, especially given the excitement the former Manchester United defender had sparked in Valencia.
"I wanted a victory," Neville said. "I wanted to start with a right foot, to keep up with the good momentum."
Valencia is in eighth place before visiting Eibar on Sunday.