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    Barcelona, Atletico Madrid battle fatigue ahead of important ties

    Players from both clubs fight fatigue from international friendlies as they return to La Liga.

    Barcelona: Barcelona hope to avoid a slip against Getafe on Sunday as their players fight fatigue from international friendlies midweek, and with Atletico Madrid lurking nine points adrift of the Spanish league leaders.

    Barcelona will play the better-rested Getafe at home, and will be missing injured playmaker Xavi Hernandez. Nine Barcelona players logged minutes in Spain's 3-1 win over Uruguay in Doha on Wednesday. Lionel Messi helped Argentina win in Sweden 3-2, and various other international players also face a quick turnaround for the Catalan club.

    "It was a very long trip, about six to seven hours. We arrived this morning and we haven't had time to rest," said Barcelona defender Jordi Alba. "But we have the rest of the day and tomorrow to get fit for the game on Sunday."

    Barcelona have been practically unbeatable this season, and have a home league record of nine wins and a draw. Even so, Barcelona have proven vulnerable of late with a draw and a loss in their last two away games in league play to go with a pair of draws in the Copa del Rey.

    Messi will try to extend his record run of having scored in 12 consecutive games, while fellow forward Pedro Rodriguez enters off a brace for Spain. However, he will be missing one of his favourite assist makers in Xavi, who is out for two weeks with a muscle injury in his right leg.

    Getafe have wins at home over Madrid and Malaga, but have yet to come up with a quality victory on the road this season. "The absence of Xavi will affect them," said Getafe captain Jaime Gavilan. "Besides, they have several players who just made long journeys and haven't had a chance to rest. Why can't we pull off a surprise?"

    Atletico visit upstart Rayo Vallecano in a Spanish capital derby on Sunday looking to break a run of four away games without a victory. Rayo have won their last three games at Vallecas Stadium and have an impressive record with seven wins in 10 home games this season for a team many expected to fight to avoid the drop.

    Atletico coach Diego Simeone called his team's more humble crosstown rival "dangerous." "Rayo doesn't have a single player who doesn't know how to take care of the ball," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. "It's a team that wants to carry the initiative. It presses across the entire pitch and has great wingers and good midfielders as well."

    Third-place Real Madrid host Sevilla on Saturday as they try to bounce back from their latest stumble, a 1-0 loss at Granada last weekend, which left the defending champions trailing Barcelona by 16 points.

    Jose Mourinho's Madrid could get a boost from the return of Portugal defender Pepe, who practised with his team-mates this week for the first time since having ankle surgery in early January. Otherwise, their players could have the same tired legs as Barcelona's after their international commitments.

    Sevilla beat Madrid at home this season and have been playing better since former Valencia manager Unai Emery took over last month. Journeyman coach Gregorio Manzano will begin his third stint at the head of Mallorca on Saturday when the struggling club host Osasuna.

    Manzano, who coached Mallorca from 2002-03 and 2006-10, returned to the Balearic island team on Tuesday after Joaquin Caparros was fired following just one win in 17 games and with the team in second-to-last place.

    "Changing coaches is always complicated," said Mallorca midfielder Jose Marti. "(But) Saturday's game should be a turning point that gives us back our confidence. It will be key."

    Also on Saturday, fourth-place Malaga visit a Levante on a three-game home winning streak. Last-place Deportivo La Coruna host Granada five points from safety, and Valencia travel to relegation-threatened Celta Vigo.

    Real Sociedad have lost only once in 12 rounds and visit Real Zaragoza also on Sunday, while Athletic Bilbao host an improved Espanyol that have just one defeat in nine matches under coach Javier Aguirre.

    Fifth-place Real Betis host Valladolid on Monday with a chance to move into the top four spots and claim a Champions League place if Malaga falter.

    La Liga