Spain: Barcelona will try to adapt without leading scorer Lionel Messi against Spanish league struggler Mallorca on Saturday as they prepare for the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi helped Barcelona secure a 2-2 draw at PSG on Tuesday, but they lost the Argentina forward to a right hamstring injury and also saw their defense further depleted when Javier Mascherano hurt his right knee. With Messi questionable for PSG's visit on Wednesday, the Spanish leaders will likely try a backup plan for their attack versus relegation-threatened Mallorca at Camp Nou.
"The fact that we can't count on Messi is an added incentive for us to show that we have enough quality to compete without him and that we can play just as well," Barcelona defender Dani Alves said.
Real Madrid and Malaga also play on Saturday, three days before their respective Champions League matches at Galatasaray and Borussia Dortmund, respectively. Leading the league by 13 points over Madrid, Barcelona's focus will surely be on having a good showing to warm up for PSG. While Barcelona will have a tough time replacing Messi's league-leading 43 goals, they still have Spanish internationals David Villa and Cesc Fabregas to pick up the slack. There are bigger worries in defense.
Mascherano's injury will sideline him for six weeks, compounding the problems for coach Tito Vilanova, who was already missing captain Carles Puyol and Adriano from his backline. Vilanova could give 22-year-old Marc Bartra his second straight start or recycle either holding midfielder Alex Song or Sergio Busquets into a center back.
Barcelona have a near perfect home record in the league of 13 wins and one draw, but they will have to be careful not to give away another lead in the final moments. A defensive lapse allowed Celta Vigo to grab a late equalizer last weekend, and a deflected shot just before the whistle at PSG turned victory into a draw.
Madrid welcome Levante to the Santiago Bernabeu in high spirits after putting one foot into the Champions League semi-finals with a commanding 3-0 victory over Galatasaray from goals by attacking trio Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. Even though Ronaldo has been in his usual superb scoring form this season, both Benzema and Higuain have been criticized for not pulling their weight up front. Madrid are also unbeaten at home and face a Levante side in 10th place.
Madrid will be without Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos for Tuesday's trip to Turkey with both facing a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. "Both teams will be missing important players for the next meeting," Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. "(But) that means I can let Alonso and Ramos play on Saturday, something they weren't going to do."
Malaga visit Real Sociedad in the round's marquee matchup with the Basque host one point ahead of Malaga in fourth place and in possession of Spain's last Champions League spot for next season. Sociedad are on a league-best run of only one loss in its last 19 games - that sole defeat being a 4-3 thriller at Madrid. Malaga, however, may rest a good part of their first-choice squad thinking ahead to Tuesday's game at Dortmund after several of their veteran players looked ragged after holding on for a 0-0 draw with the German champions in the first leg.
Also Saturday, last-place Deportivo La Coruna host Real Zaragoza in a game that could prove critical to both clubs' hopes of staying in the topflight. Deportivo havd finally shown some signs of life with their first back-to-back wins of the season, while Zaragoza's winless run of 12 straight games has taken them to the edge of the relegation zone.
On Sunday, it's: Getafe vs. Atletico Madrid; Celta vs. Rayo Vallecano; Osasuna vs. Espanyol; and Valencia vs. Valladolid.
Granada host Real Betis on Friday. Athletic Bilbao visit Sevilla on Monday.