BARCELONA, February 4 – Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano has warned his team to put any thoughts of the Copa del Rey final with Real Madrid to one side and focus fully on the visit of Atletico Madrid in La Liga this weekend.
Mascherano has only been a bit part player for Barca since his summer move from Liverpool but has been a regular in the Cup side which has reached the final after eliminating Almeria this week. Real knocked out Sevilla in the other semi-final.
The Argentine has been unable to uproot Barcelona’s key midfield trio of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets who have been the engine room of the team which has now opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the table following Real’s defeat by Osasuna.
"We need to forget about the final now as otherwise we will have problems in other competitions," said Mascherano.
"It is important that we arrive at this game (the Cup final) in a good position but as the rival is Real Madrid everything will be built up.
"We are not machines but humans and any weekend we can lose although I am not concerned at the moment because I do not see signs of relaxation, in fact quite the opposite.
"Atletico are a strong side and we will take nothing for granted. They won the Europa League last season and beat the world champions (Inter Milan) in the Super Cup."
With Barcelona having dropped so few points it will be a tough task for Real Madrid to claw back the difference in the league but they start against Real Sociedad.
"Now we have to focus on the league and then the Champions League," said midfielder Angel Di Maria. "We have done what we have had to do in the Cup to reach the final and we will try to win every competition we are in."
Di Maria also played down the fact that team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo has now not scored in four games.
"At times things don’t go for you and it is also a while since I scored. Cristiano is playing well and has to be calm knowing that the goals will start coming again."
Villarreal came away with a victory from Espanyol’s fortress like Cornella stadium and now are within six points of Real Madrid as they prepare to take on struggling Levante, while below them Valencia face Hercules.
With bigger clubs having under-performed this season, Espanyol have taken their chances and can further consolidate their European position against second-from-bottom Almeria.
Athletic Bilbao, who play Sporting Gijon, are two points behind Espanyol in sixth but traditional powerhouses Atletico Madrid and Sevilla are well off the pace.
While Atletico are at the Nou Camp, Sevilla face a tricky Andalusian derby against Malaga, who have a better squad than their bottom place would suggest, former Real Madrid trainer Manuel Pellegrini also having signed some experienced players in the winter transfer window.
However, while they have brought in players like Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis and Enzo Maresca they still need the results to follow and have lost their last three matches.
Zaragoza’s outlook is considerably better after three straight wins but they are still not out of trouble and have another relegation dogfight with Racing Santander.
Despite their win over Real Madrid, Osasuna are also just three points off the relegation zone and they now meet Mallorca.
It has been a disappointing season for Deportivo la Coruna, who take on Getafe. Instead of pushing for a place in Europe they are likely to finish the season with the aim of avoiding the drop.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Osasuna v Mallorca, Almeria v Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Gijon, Getafe v Deportivo la Coruna, Zaragoza v Racing Santander (all 1700), Villarreal v Levante (1900), Barcelona v Atletico Madrid (2100)
Sevilla v Malaga (1600), Real Madrid v Real Sociedad (1800), Valencia v Hercules (2000)