La Liga: Real Madrid to face Celta Vigo

Real Madrid will face Celta Vigo in a La Liga fixture on Sunday. Madrid had been dumped out of the Copa del Rey by the same opponent just over a week ago.

LukaModric

Luka Modric missed the last two Real Madrid fixtures due to injury.   -  AP

Real Madrid hopes to have Luka Modric and Marcelo back fit as it seeks to exact revenge for its recent Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Celta Vigo when it returns to Balaidos on Sunday. Celta weathered a second-leg storm at home after pulling off a surprise 2-1 first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu to > progress to the last four 4-3 on aggregate just over a week ago.

However, the roles from the second leg of that tie look set to be reversed as a far stronger Real side travels north with Celta boss Eduardo Berizzo set to make a series of changes with his side’s Cup semifinal, second leg away at Alaves on Wednesday in mind. Modric and Marcelo have missed the last two games through injury, but both returned to training on Thursday and could feature.

The presence of Modric in midfield would be doubly important to Zinedine Zidane’s men with Toni Kroos suspended. Berizzo has heavily rotated his Celta side in its past two La Liga outings to prioritise the Cup. And with the Galicians just 90 minutes away from a first Cup final since 2001 with the tie against Alaves delicately poised at 0-0, the Argentine expected to do so again with the likes of top scorer Iago Aspas dropping to the bench.

Barcelona faces Atletico Bilbao

Cup revenge will also be on Athletic Bilbao’s minds when it travels to face Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Barca dumped Athletic out of the Copa del Rey for the sixth time in nine years in January and needs a similar outcome to prevent Real running away with the title. The champions trails its eternal rival by four points having also played a game more after a disappointing display in drawing 1-1 at Real Betis last weekend.

Barca bounced back to remain on course for a fourth straight Cup final by > beating Atletico Madrid 2-1 in its semifinal, first leg at the Vicente Calderon in midweek. And Luis Enrique’s men could be handed a double injury boost themselves as Andres Iniesta returned to training on Thursday and Sergio Busquets is nearing a comeback form ankle ligament damage.

Enrique has defended his decision to rotate his squad throughout a demanding January and February of League and Cup commitments with a return to Champions League action at Paris Saint-Germain on February 14 also on the horizon. “Between injuries, suspensions and tiredness, there is no other way. I rotate or we don’t challenge in all competitions,” Enrique said this week.

Therefore, Rafinha, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez are all likely to feature after being left on the bench in midweek. Defeat to Barca in midweek left Atletico’s final season at the Calderon in danger of petering out without a trophy. Diego Simeone’s men have failed to win in any of their last four games and face a fight just to qualify for the Champions League next season rather than battling Madrid and Barca for the title.

Atletico is 10 points adrift of its city rival and just a point ahead of Real Sociedad in fourth. However, it will be confident of a return to winning ways when lowly Leganes visits the Calderon on Saturday without a win in its last 10 games.

Third-placed Sevilla’s title ambitions were dealt a blow with a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol last weekend to leave it four points off the pace. And Jorge Sampaoli’s men’s title credentials face another stiff test when sixth-placed Villarreal visits the Sanchez Pizjuan in the Sunday lunchtime kickoff.

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