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15 April 2024

Messi keeps title talk off agenda


Barcelona may be 11 points ahead of their nearest rivals, Atletico Madrid, but Lionel Messi, who this week won his fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or, is keeping his feet on the ground regarding the title race.

The Argentinian is taking nothing for granted as Barca prepare to face one of the toughest trips in La Liga when they visit fourth-placed Malaga on Sunday.

"The league is still not resolved, Madrid have made up a similar lead to this in the past, we know that we can't take anything as won and we must continue without errors or relaxing," he said.

"I would have liked to have won more titles last year, my goal is always to keep getting better and not be content with what I have, I always say I have to improve everything," he added, ominously for La Liga defences after finishing 2012 with a record 91 goals.

Barca also have David Villa, who is yet to play a full 90 minutes in the league this season, back in goalscoring form after he hit a double in the 5-0 Spanish Cup win against Cordoba on Thursday.

Malaga were also successful in the cup in midweek, defeating Eibar 4-1 to set up a two-legged quarter-final clash with Sunday's opponents that will see the two sides meet three times in little over 10 days.

Former Barca forward Javier Saviola, now with Malaga, recognises they will be big games for him.

"They will be special for me personally and on a football level. They are a powerful and very technical team and any draw against a big club is good, but we'll be going out to win," said the Argentine.

Second-placed Atletico also reached the quarter-finals in midweek and welcomed back top-scorer Radamel Falcao who they missed through injury in the 1-1 league draw at Mallorca last Sunday.

The Colombian should be available for the home clash with Zaragoza on Sunday where the side from the capital will look to make it 10 league wins from 10 in their own stadium.

Real Madrid go to bottom club Osasuna having hit eight goals in two wins since their return from the winter break.

Five of those have come from Cristiano Ronaldo who will not be available for the game due to a suspension for an accumulation of cards.

Ronaldo was quick to call for unity from all at the club on Wednesday after his hat-trick eased his team into the quarter-finals of the Cup with a 4-0 win over Celta Vigo.

And now the tension caused by Jose Mourinho's decision to leave captain Iker Casillas out of the last two league games has ended with the goalkeeper expected to continue in place of the suspended Antonio Adan at Osasuna.

Casillas himself spoke on Thursday, taking advantage of a promotional event to smooth out any perceived problems he may have with Mourinho.

"It has not bothered me at all that Mourinho said that I was a bit too comfortable. I have to train harder and get back my confidence", he said.

Casillas also had words about his side's poor league form that sees the champions 16 points behind Barcelona in third place.

"Our form compared to last year has not been too good. Last season was very good for us and we were looking to continue in the same way, perhaps it's a bit too late to chase back the points and win this league but we are obliged to try to do it."

Another player who will miss the trip to Pamplona is Sergio Ramos who received a five-game ban for words directed at the referee in the aftermath of a sending-off against Celta Vigo.

With his centre-half partner Pepe out with injury for a lengthy spell, Mourinho will have to continue with youngster Raphael Varane alongside former Chelsea veteran Ricardo Carvalho in the centre of defence.

Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano (2030 GMT)

Valladolid v Mallorca (1500 GMT), Espanyol v Celta Vigo (1700 GMT), Osasuna v Real Madrid (1900 GMT), Valencia v Sevilla (2100 GMT)

Betis v Levante (1100 GMT), Real Sociedad v Deportivo La Coruna (1600 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Zaragoza (1800 GMT), Malaga v Barcelona (1700 GMT)

Getafe v Granada (1900 GMT)