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Xavi stays bullish

MADRID, February 25 – Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez has dismissed suggestions that the team are buckling under the strain of so many demanding matches following a glut of injuries recently, insisting they are no worse off than title challengers Real Madrid.

Xavi will be missing along with Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes for the trip to Real Mallorca while Leo Messi had a knock but has been given the green light to play.

With Dani Alves also suspended it means that coach Pep Guardiola will have to make several changes.

The injuries have come during a key part of the season with the club having reached the final of the King’s Cup as well as competing in the domestic league and the Champions League.

While they have continued to show their eye-catching football in spells in recent matches they have not been as consistent as earlier in the campaign.

They were lucky to draw with Sporting Gijon ahead of their Champions League tie with Arsenal, which they lost 2-1 in London, and then last weekend they scraped home a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

"Every year teams have these kinds of injuries, we have had a lot of games but there is no reason to be alarmed as it is something quite normal," said Xavi.

"Barca are playing well, we are dominating games and creating chances. It is all down to us and I don’t think (Real) Madrid are improving and we are getting worse, that is just fans’ talk. They are still a very strong side and we need to be wary of them."

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Real have won their last three league games and reduced the gap at the top to five points while they managed an important away goal in their 1-1 draw with Lyon in the Champions League.

As they prepare to take on Deportivo la Coruna this weekend, coach Jose Mourinho tried to relax his players by saying that even if they do finish second then the season would have been far from a disaster.

"We have to go our own way and look for stability. If we don’t win the league and then change everything in the summer it would be a case of starting all over again," said Mourinho.

"It is important to go in the right direction and it is logical that the young players we have will get better and win things. I am not saying we will finish second though and we could still win the treble."

Valencia have taken advantage of a slump in form from Villarreal to move into third place but they now face a tough match away to Athletic Bilbao who have a strong home record and will be looking to bounce back from the Barcelona defeat.

Villarreal travel to Racing Santander having picked up just one point from three games as their extra commitments in the Europa League appear to be taking their toll.

Espanyol are still in a Europa League place despite losing their last four games and they now take on Real Sociedad who are among the teams below them trying to close the gap. So too are Atletico Madrid and Sevilla who go head-to-head at the Calderon.

The battle is also fierce at the other end of the table and the bottom two sides Malaga and Almeria meet each other.

Zaragoza have slipped back into the bottom three after a brief recovery and they now play Sporting Gijon while Levante take on Osasuna and Hercules entertain Getafe.

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Saturday (all times GMT)

Atletico Madrid v Sevilla (17:00)

Sporting Gijon v Zaragoza (17:00)

Espanyol v Real Sociedad (17:00)

Mallorca v Barcelona (19:00)

Deportivo la Coruna v Real Madrid (21:00)


Hercules v Getafe (16:00)

Levante v Osasuna (16:00)

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Racing Santander v Villarreal (18:00)

Athletic Bilbao v Valencia (20:00)


Malaga v Almeria (20:00)

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