Sunday, September 20, 2009

Champs Barcelona, Real Madrid set to maintain top spots

MADRID: Barcelona and Real Madrid are expected to maintain their perfect starts when they face early strugglers in the Spanish League this weekend.
Defending champions Barcelona, who lead Madrid on goal difference, will try to make it nine points out of nine when they host an Atletico Madrid in disarray today.
The following day, Madrid welcome promoted Xerez, who have begun badly with two losses in which they have failed to score.
Having become the first Spanish team to win the treble of League, King’s Cup and Champions League last season, Barcelona’s supremacy appears only to be threatened by Madrid, who have signed eight new players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema in a €254mil (US$374.5mil) spending spree.
Last weekend, Barcelona and Madrid earned comfortable away wins at Getafe and Espanyol, respectively, despite omitting several top players from their starting line-ups.
Barcelona and Madrid, who have won 21 of the past 25 Spanish League titles, boast budgets for this year of €405mil and €422mil (US$597mil and US$622mil), respectively.

In contrast, Xerez will pay only €9mil (US$13.3mil).
Such figures divide opinion in Spain, with some suggesting the powerhouses’ clout on and off the field makes the country’s league the world’s best. Others maintain that the gulf is now too great to make for an interesting competition.
Barcelona may face Atletico without Spain defender Gerard Pique, who twisted an ankle in the 0-0 draw at Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday. Dmytro Chygrynskiy, a recent signing from Shakhtar Donetsk, is set to play instead.
Atletico, whose fans staged a mass protest last week at the board’s running of the club, are 18th after taking only one point. On Tuesday, they were held to a 0-0 draw against APOEL Nicosia in the Champions League.
“I ask our supporters for patience,” Atletico coach Abel Resino said. “We have to grit our teeth. Now is not the time for tears.”

Atletico will miss five players, including goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and defender Alvaro Dominguez, who begin international duty with Spain at the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
Madrid go into their first-ever league meeting with Xerez in confident mood after beating FC Zurich 5-2 in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“We have built a spectacular team after a season in which, let’s not forget, for the first time we were not seeded in the top group in the Champions League,” Madrid president Florentino Perez said.
Madrid coach Manuel Pelligrini may recall Benzema to the starting line-up, while defender Sergio Ramos, striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra will also hope for action after recovering from long-term injuries.
However, midfielder Xabi Alonso will miss the game with a bruised right calf muscle.
Only Valencia and Athletic Bilbao have kept pace with Barcelona and Madrid so far. However, Valencia midfielder David Silva acknowledged his team may not be able to match the powerhouses for long.

“It will be difficult to compete with Barcelona and Madrid because their wealth and players will always keep them up there,” Silva added.
Nevertheless, Valencia will expect another three points when they host Sporting Gijon tomorrow.
Bilbao, along with Barcelona the only team yet to concede a goal so far, will be bidding to become the first team to beat Villarreal this season.

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