Barcelona look to recover sparkle against Depor


BARCELONA, Dec 14 – Barcelona have managed to get away with some lacklustre displays recently and Sunday’s visit of struggling Deportivo La Coruna offers them a chance to recapture their sparkling early season form a week before the ‘Clasico’ against Real Madrid.

Victory over Depor would see Barca move 11 points clear of their bitter rivals before the crunch game at the Santiago Bernabeu on Dec. 23, as Real, eight points adrift of Barca in fourth, are away on Club World Cup duty in Abu Dhabi.

Barca remain unbeaten in the league and have a healthy five-point cushion at the top of the standings over Valencia despite trundling along in their last three games, in which they have drawn twice.

They were held by Valencia and Celta Vigo, who have proved to be their bogey team in recent years, while their 2-0 win at Villarreal in their last outing owed a lot to opposing midfielder Daniel Raba’s second half dismissal.

Shorn of Neymar’s speed and flair, and with his replacement Ousmane Dembele still injured, Barca have lacked the excitement of recent years and become increasingly reliant on the consistency of Lionel Messi to keep them ahead of their rivals.

Barca have developed into a more reliable outfit under coach Ernesto Valverde, however, gaining extra control in midfield and a tougher edge, and Deportivo goalkeeper Ruben Martinez believes they are as difficult to beat as they have ever been.

“In football, the most important thing is results and for me Barcelona are at the same level as before… in fact they are much more efficient than in other years,” he said.

Deportivo should make for more accommodating opponents for Barca than those in their last three games as the Galicians have only taken five points from seven league away trips and are hovering above the relegation zone ahead of the Nou Camp visit.

“We’re focusing on how we can cause them harm. We need to be concentrated for the entire game, we have to be positive, we know it’ll be difficult but we have to try,” Martinez added.

Second-placed Valencia scraped a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo last week with the help of a highly controversial late penalty and will need to raise their game when they visit Eibar if they want to stay on Barcelona’s tail.

Atletico Madrid are one point behind Valencia and searching for a fourth consecutive league win against Alaves, who are in the relegation zone but experiencing a revival under new coach Abelardo Fernandez, who has won both of his games in charge.