Barcelona aims to rebound against Rayo

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Barcelona aims to rebound against Rayo

Barcelona looks to close the gap to Spanish leader Real Madrid and rebound from its first loss of the season as it hosts Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday.

By (AP)

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Published: Mon 28 Nov 2011, 8:41 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:15 AM

The defending champion hopes it will be bolstered by the return of Spain midfielders Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.

Iniesta missed the past two games with a left thigh injury, and Fabregas was rested as a precaution during Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat at Getafe on Saturday.

Both trained on Sunday and coach Pep Guardiola will likely look to include them in his squad. The return of the two playmakers would signal Barcelona returning to full strength with only injured Netherlands midfielder Ibrahim Afellay still sidelined.

The defending champion’s first loss in 27 games dating back to last season left it six point adrift Madrid.

The last time it trailed its fierce rival by six points was during the 2007-’08 season, just before Guardiola took over and quickly made Barcelona the dominant force in Spanish and European football with a club-record 12 titles.

“Madrid will drop very few points from here on and our margin of error is zero,” said Barcelona defender Dani Alves. “They have the advantage. We have to be focused and not make any mistakes.”

Barcelona has struggled away from home this season, but the Catalan side is on an impressive run at Camp Nou stadium where it has won six of seven league games, outscoring its opponents 30-0.

While the rest of the Spanish league won’t play until the weekend, Barcelona has had to reshuffle its schedule to make room for the upcoming Club World Cup.

After playing Levante on Saturday, Barcelona faces BATE Borisov in the Champions League four days later, before visiting Madrid on Dec. 10.

Alves says the team is already looking to that first “clasico” as key to Barcelona’s chances of winning a fourth straight league title.

“The distance of nine points if we lose at the Bernabeu would be huge, but I don’t think about that,” Alves said. “I think we are going to respond. We will go there and compete like we know how.”

Despite its 2-1 loss to Valencia on Saturday, Rayo is still the top-performing promoted side this season.

The Madrid-based team sits 10th and has only lost two of its seven away games.

Forward Miguel “Michu” Perez leads Rayo with five goals, while ex-Espanyol striker Raul Tamudo has chipped in with four more.

Rayo coach Jose Sandoval said he would not change his team’s balanced attacking approach just because he is facing “the best coach there is.”

“This is like a bullfight,” Sandoval said. “Either you are carried out on the shoulders of the crowd as the big winner, or you end up in the emergency room. You have to be brave.”

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