Soccer-Barca vulnerable without Messi, Neymar - Getafe


By Iain Rogers

MADRID, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Barcelona are looking to extend their record run at the top of La Liga and sign off for the winter break with a win when they play at eighth-placed Getafe on Sunday but the modest Madrid-based club are eyeing an upset.

Barca will travel to the Spanish capital without injured World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who is continuing his recovery from a muscle strain in his native Argentina and is not due back until the middle of January.

Coach Gerardo Martino is also missing in-form Brazil forward Neymar, who is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in last weekend's 2-1 win over Villarreal, and Getafe president Angel Torres believes the absence of the two forwards boosts his side's chances.

Sunday's game is the first of three meetings between Barca and Getafe over the next few weeks as they also clash over two legs in the last 16 of the King's Cup early next month.

"Let's see if we can get them this time, it's a good moment for it," Torres, whose side knocked Barca out of the Cup in 2007, told reporters at a charity event on Wednesday.

"Messi is the best player in the world and Neymar is coming into good form but it must be said that they have plenty of backup," he added.

"We will have to play at 150 percent on Sunday as well as in the Cup.

"We will have a go. We did it in 2007 and we will give it the best possible shot."

With Messi and Neymar unavailable, the goal-scoring burden will likely fall on the shoulders of Alexis Sanchez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas.

Spain forward Pedro has seven goals in La Liga this term, one more than Neymar, and scored Barca's opening goal in Tuesday's King's Cup victory against third-tier Cartagena.

"Scoring always helps with your confidence," he told reporters. "I am pleased with the goals I am bringing to the team and also for having a chance to play."


Barca's success at home to Villarreal meant the champions had held top spot for 54 consecutive matchdays extending back to last season, surpassing the record set by arch rivals Real Madrid between the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns.

By the time Barca take to pitch at Getafe's Coliseum stadium on Sunday (1600 GMT), however, they could already be three points behind closest rivals Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone's side, who like Barca have won all eight of their home games, host 11th-placed Levante on Saturday (1900) and are level on 43 points at the top.

They have the same goal difference as Barca but are second because they have scored one goal fewer.

Real Madrid are five points adrift of the leaders after they were held to a 2-2 draw at Osasuna last weekend and play at troubled Valencia on Sunday (2000).

Mired down in ninth, Valencia are yet to name a replacement for coach Miroslav Djukic, who was sacked on Monday, and B team boss Nico Estevez has taken charge in the meantime.

The club were in talks with former Barcelona and Spain striker Juan Antonio Pizzi, who won Argentina's league title with San Lorenzo on Sunday, Spanish media reported.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti is waiting to see if record signing Gareth Bale will be available for the game at the Mestalla after the Wales winger took a knock to the calf in training on Tuesday. (Editing by John O'Brien)

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