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LA LIGA PREVIEW

BARCA

Top spot under threat for Neymar-less Barça

Barcelona will have to do without both Neymar and Lionel Messi as they try to ensure they finish 2013 at the top of La Liga when they visit Getafe on Sunday.

Top spot under threat for Neymar-less Barça
Neymar had just hit top form in front of goal for the first time since his summer arrival from Santos with six goals in Barça's previous three games. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Neymar had just hit top form in front of goal for the first time since his summer arrival from Santos with six goals in Barça's previous three games.

However, the Brazilian has already travelled back to his homeland for an early Christmas break after picking up a suspension with his fifth yellow card of the season in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Villarreal.

With Messi also still recovering from his hamstring tear, the focus will be on Cesc Fabregas, Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez to score the goals needed to keep Barça on top.

Pedro has seen his opportunities diminished by the arrival of Neymar and Sanchez’s good form this season, but the Spanish international has stressed his intention to fight for his place in Gerardo Martino’s side.

“When you play less you, don’t necessarily feel less important, but it is true that it is a different feeling when you don’t get so many minutes on the field,” he said.

“What I need to do is fight to try and achieve my objective, which is to stay at Barcelona.”

Barca did receive a boost on Thursday with the news that Andres Iniesta is to sign a new deal that will keep him at the club until 2018.

And with Fabregas set to play in the false nine role, Iniesta should be restored to the starting line-up in midfield alongside Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets.

Getafe will also face Barca in the next round of the King’s Cup as both sides eased through their fourth-round ties in midweek.

Midfielder Angel Lafita admitted his side have a better chance of downing the Catalans in a one-off game than in a two-legged tie, but isn’t convinced Barca will miss Neymar and Messi too much.

“In one game, a lot can happen. When it is 180 minutes, normally consistency is the most important thing,” he said.

“In that aspect, Barcelona are very strong, they are the best in the Spanish league and, therefore, it is possible we have more chance of sneaking something out of the league game.

“It is obvious they are missing two of the best players in the world, but they also have Pedro, Cesc, Alexis and many others that are also playing very well and can replace them perfectly well.”

Given Barca’s lack of goalscoring options, Atletico Madrid have a great chance to be top of the league at Christmas for the first time since 1995 as they host Levante at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.

Atletico trail Barca only on goals scored and will move top as long as they better Martino’s men’s result at Getafe.

Diego Costa will return for Diego Simeone’s side after being rested in the cup in midweek, and he too is looking to finish the year on top of La Liga’s scoring charts after moving level with Cristiano Ronaldo on 17 with a double in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Valencia.

Real Madrid also face a tricky encounter to close the year as they travel to Valencia.

Madrid’s defensive crisis has been eased by Sergio Ramos’ successful appeal against his 18th red card for the club in last weekend’s 2-2 draw away to Osasuna.

However, Pepe does remain suspended as he picked up his fifth yellow of the campaign, whilst Raphael Varane’s on-going knee problems mean Nacho will start alongside Ramos at the heart of the defence.

Gareth Bale is also expected to be fit to play despite missing Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Olimpic Xativa in the King’s Cup due to a calf injury and Ronaldo returns after being suspended in midweek.

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FOOTBALL

Thousands of Atletico fans flock to Madrid’s Neptune fountain to cheer league victory

Thousands of Atletico Madrid fans defied the authorities by taking to the streets of the Spanish capital to celebrate on Saturday night after victory over Real Valladolid secured their team an 11th league title.

Thousands of Atletico fans flock to Madrid's Neptune fountain to cheer league victory
Spanish policemen stand guard around Atletico Madrid´s supporters outside the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

As soon as the full-time whistle blew in Valladolid to confirm a 2-1 win, Atleti supporters flocked to the Neptune fountain in the centre of Madrid, in
line with tradition but defying Covid-19 rules regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing.

“I was confident Atletico would win. It was like a final and being against Valladolid, I knew we were going to win,” Federico Gonzalez, 46, and among the crowds, told AFP.

A large police presence surrounded the fountain, with several vans also present to prevent people from approaching the fountain, which had been lit up in Atletico’s red and white colours.

Fans waved flags and scarves while others set off flares as darkness fell, the celebrations going on into the night after Atletico’s second La Liga title in seven years.

“It is a joy. From the beginning of the game I was overcome with nerves because Atleti plays each game in its own way and you just never know”, said Carlota Maestro, 20, who came to the city centre with three friends.

Amid shouts of “Atleti, Atleti” and “Campeones”, the rojiblancos fans danced, jumped and hugged each other. Cars and motorbikes drove by honking
their horns, some with red and white flags poking out of the windows.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant Atletico’s fans have not been allowed to attend matches this season and their celebrations defied the recommendations of the authorities.

Fans ignored rules on social distancing and many were not wearing masks. “Please, I ask the Atletico fans not to go to Neptune,” wrote the mayor of
Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, himself an Atletico supporter, on Twitter. “I am the first to understand the desire to celebrate but this is not the time.”

“It is a strange celebration, because we have not been able to do it like normal, on the field, surrounded by other fans,” said Pablo Diaz, a 22-year-old fan. “We celebrate it but with a little fear, being careful, and wearing a mask.”

Hundreds of other fans had accompanied the team to Valladolid, where they watched the game on their phones in the car park outside the stadium.

After the match, Atletico’s ran out of the stadium to celebrate with the supporters they had not seen all season.

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