Barcelona looks to regain top form on Saturday

January 18, 2013, 9:13 AM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona will be looking to rebound from its recent stumble in the Copa del Rey as it tries to preserve its near immaculate Spanish league campaign at Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Unbeaten Barcelona has won a league-record 55 points out of a possible 57 at the season’s midway point. Barring an unforeseen disaster, the Catalan club looks destined to regain the league title with a commanding 11-point lead at the top of the table.

Tito Vilanova’s squad, however, proved it is indeed vulnerable by conceding a late goal to draw 2-2 with 10-man Malaga on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey.

"We have all learned a certain style of play that we fully believe in," said Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, whose passing error led to Malaga’s first goal at the Camp Nou. "But sometimes in a matter of seconds a mistake can be made. It happened to be my turn. It hurt because (it ruined) of all the work and sacrifice of my teammates.

"We just have to move on."

Second-place Atletico Madrid’s perfect home record will be put to the test by Levante on Sunday, while third-place Real Madrid plays Valencia for the second time in five days.

Lionel Messi has scored 38 goals for Barcelona in all competitions this season, including finding the net for a 13th start in a row.

Barcelona had beaten Malaga 3-1 in the league last weekend. The two sides will meet yet again on Thursday in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.

Sociedad is in ninth place and has only lost one of its last nine games, a 4-3 shootout at Madrid two rounds ago. It can also take heart in last season’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona at Anoeta Stadium.

"I’m very motivated to play against Barcelona and I hope we can be the first ones to beat them this season," Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann said. "We have the quality to do so. We just have to play well, above all in defence where we have to be sure to help one another, and then finish off the few chances we have."

Sevilla coach Unai Emery, a former Valencia and Almeria manager, will make his league debut earlier on Saturday at Getafe. Rayo Vallecano, meanwhile, takes its four-game winning streak into Granada, and Celta Vigo is at Malaga.

Madrid shouldn’t expect a friendly welcome come Sunday with Valencia still smarting from its loss in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.

Valencia complained about several refereeing decisions in the 2-0 loss, including what they argued was an ignored handball by Gonzalo Higuain that would have annulled Madrid’s second goal.

The rivals will play for a second time at Mestalla Stadium next Wednesday in the return leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.

Madrid goalkeeper Adan Garrido, himself at the centre of a storm regarding coach Jose Mourinho’s decision to sometimes start him in place of Iker Casillas, said that rumours putting Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo at odds were unfounded.

"There was never any confrontation (between Mourinho and Ronaldo)," Garrido said. "They are both adults and can express their opinions, but always with the utmost respect."

Also on Sunday, last-place Osasuna hosts Deportivo La Coruna, and Real Zaragoza is at Valladolid.

Real Betis has quietly slipped into fourth place and Spain’s last Champions League spot with its attractive attacking style earning it five wins in its last seven league games.

On Monday, the Seville-based team hosts a slumping Athletic Bilbao that has lost three straight and is in danger of falling into the relegation zone.

Espanyol hosts relegation-threatened Mallorca on Friday.

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