Barcelona will try to adapt without leading scorer Lionel Messi against Spanish league struggler Mallorca on Saturday as it prepares for the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi helped Barcelona secure a 2-2 draw at PSG on Tuesday,but it lost the Argentina forward to a right hamstring injury and also saw its defense further depleted when Javier Mascherano hurt his right knee.
With Messi questionable for PSGs visit on Wednesday,the Spanish leaders will likely try a backup plan for their attack versus relegation-threatened Mallorca at Camp Nou.
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,Barcelonas focus will surely be on having a good showing to warm up for PSG.
While Barcelona will have a tough time replacing Messis league-leading 43 goals,it still has Spanish internationals David Villa and Cesc Fabregas to pick up the slack. There are bigger worries in defense. Mascheranos 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.
Madrid welcomes Levante to the Santiago Bernabeu in high spirits after putting one foot into the Champions League semifinals 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 is also unbeaten at home and faces a Levante side in 10th place. Madrid will be without Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos for Tuesdays trip to Turkey with both facing a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.
Di Canios test
Paolo Di Canio has endured a trying first week as Sunderland manager off the pitch and it wont get any easier on it when his relegation-haunted team take on European champions Chelsea on Sunday,in his opening game in charge.
Since being appointed as Martin ONeills replacement,the combustible Italian has spent more time fielding questions about his political beliefs than about how he intends to steer Sunderland to Premier League safety. It is a big step up for Di Canio,who spent eight seasons in the Premier League as a player but has never coached in Englands or any other countrys top division.
Di Canios return to the Premier League,where he was a regular headline-grabber in spells with Sheffield Wednesday,West Ham and Charlton Athletic,could even overshadow Mondays Manchester derby between the top two.