Luis Enrique has warned his Barcelona players to cast thoughts of the Club World Cup out of their minds and focus on Saturday’s league clash with in-form Deportivo La Coruna.
The meeting at the Nou Camp is the Blaugrana’s last game before they head to Japan in a bid to land their fifth trophy of the calendar year, starting with Thursday’s semi-final against Club America of Mexico or China’s AFC Champions League winners Guangzhou Evergrande.
But Enrique is anxious to ensure they take care of domestic matters first, with Deportivo presenting a considerable challenge as the last visiting team to leave the Nou Camp with any points.
Depor famously avoided relegation on the final day of last season by snatching a 2-2 draw against Barca, and Enrique has been impressed by their progress.
The Galician club are sixth after losing just one of their last 11 games, and Enrique smiled: “A lot of people are already thinking about Japan and the Club World Cup, including my family!
“But I’m here to say that we have another game before then, against a team that I really like. We have to treat the game with a lot of caution.”
With second and third-placed Atletico and Real facing testing games against Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal on Sunday, Enrique is keen to maintain the pressure by chalking up another win.
Fb Messi: Last training session before tomorrow’s La Liga game. After that we go to Japan! pic.twitter.com/KoM6k2JUHy
— BarcaHD (@Barcelona_HD) December 11, 2015
“The Club World Cup is attractive but it would be sad if we don’t take care of business before travelling to Japan,” he added. “Deportivo are sixth in the table and they are putting together some spectacular numbers. They work together well in attack and defence and they don’t look anything like the team we saw last season.”
The biggest star for Depor has been frontman Lucas Perez, who netted the first goal in his team’s fightback at the Nou Camp in May and has been in spectacular form in the current campaign, scoring 10 league goals to become the country’s second-highest scoring Spaniard after Athletic’s Aritz Aduriz.
Enrique, who is without La Liga’s leading scorer Neymar with a hamstring injury, said: “Perez is in great form. Deportivo are a bad opponent for us. I really like the way they play and they’ll make it tough for us.”
Each week, Sport360 will be bring you the best five players from the past week’s La Liga matches, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.
YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five so be sure to rate each weekend.
1) ANTONIO SANABRIA (SPORTING GIJON) – 9.40
The Roma loanee was inspired this week, scoring a hat-trick for Sporting in their 3-1 win over Las Palmas that saw them draw clear of the relegation zone.
Sanabria, 19, now has five goals in nine games so far this season and he certainly caught the eye with his treble.
The Paraguayan will hope he can muster up similar form in the coming weeks and help pull his team further clear of the drop zone.
2) KARIM BENZEMA (REAL MADRID) – 7.91
Being in the middle of a sex scandal in France, that implicates him as a go-between for a fraudster to blackmail a teammate, doesn’t seem to be affecting Benzema all that much on the pitch.
Within 16 minutes Benzema had a brace as he scored his seventh and eighth La Liga goals of the season in Real Madrid’s 4-1 win over Getafe.
For all his questionable behaviour off the picth, Benzema remains a potent threat on it.
3) IMANOL AGIRRETXE (REAL SOCIEDAD) – 7.80
Agirretxe delighted Sociedad fans with his last-gasp goal that gave their side a 2-1 win over Eibar in the Basque derby on Saturday.
The Spanish forward scored both goals of the game to hand his team a much needed victory over their local rivals.
David Moyes will be wondering why Agirretxe couldn’t do it for him when it counted.
4) JONY (SPORTING GIJON) – 7.71
The Spanish winger was just as much the route of Sporting’s win over Las Palmas as Sanabria, at the heart of each of the latter’s three goals.
It was Jony’s rebounded shot that Sanabria tapped home for the first, before the 24-year-old then supplied his striker with two more sublime assists to seal a resounding win.
Widely regarded as a fine talent in Spain, people across Europe will have taken note of his latest impressive performance.
5) CEDRIC BAKAMBU (VILLARREAL) – 7.45
The Congolese forward hauled his side to a 2-1 win over Rayo in dramatic fashion this week.
Bakambu’s late brace completed a fine turnaround for the Yellow Submarine.
It now takes him to six goals in 11 La Liga games this season, a very good return.
Rafa Benitez is unmoved by the criticism he has received by Real Madrid fans, believing they have every right to express their feelings.
Los Blancos’ comfortable 4-1 home win over Getafe on Saturday was preceded by sustained whistles and jeers when the coach’s name was announced with the team lineups before kick-off in the Bernabeu.
Fans were unhappy with their team’s elimination from the Copa del Rey after suspended Denis Cheryshev was named in the starting XI against Cadiz on Wednesday, and also jeered the Russian winger while chanting for president Florentino Perez to resign.
Benitez said: “We have the utmost respect for our fans and just want to improve our game over the course of the season. We are trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. We know that we’re expected to win everything whilst also playing outstanding football.
“Everyone at the club tries to do their very best every day. I am optimistic. I see a good team, one with every chance of continuing its development.”
The easy victory over Getafe served to subdue the dissenting atmosphere within the stadium, as the forward trio of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale all scored in the same game for the first time since early April.
Benzema’s two goals which opened the game came as particular relief to the France striker, who is facing unwanted attention off the pitch after being accused of blackmailing international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
Benítez: Marcelo’s not in the squad Marcelo (tweeting): I’m completely recovered Benítez (in presser): The Doctor said Marcelo isn’t fit
— AS English (@English_AS) December 5, 2015
Benitez said: “The fact that Benzema scored twice highlights just how important he is to us and what he brings to the team’s overall game. The goals will help him to deal with any problems.”
Benitez was also keen to defuse a controversy over the non-selection of left-back Marcelo, who has been out of action for a fortnight with a hamstring injury.
The day before the game, the Brazilian tweeted that he was fully recovered and available for selection, but he was subsequently left out of the squad. Benitez said: “The doctor said that he has not been declared fit. This game came too early for him.”