Barca's World Player trio to test Deportivo

MADRID - Deportivo La Coruna could find themselves hosting a warm-up for the big 'Barca Party' when they host the Spanish league leaders on Saturday.

Barcelona's Argentina forward Lionel Messi and Spain midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi will find out which of them has won the World Player of the Year award at a ceremony in Zurich on Monday.

If they beat Depor, who had to wait until the final day of October for their first La Liga victory of the season, they will stretch Barca's lead over arch rivals Real Madrid at the top of the standings to five points.

Real are at home to third-placed Villarreal on Sunday.

Depor have won five and drawn two of their last nine games to haul themselves up to 12th but Barca have the best away record in the league having won all eight of their games to help them to 46 points from 17 matches.

Spain playmaker Xavi, who set a club appearance record of 550 in Wednesday's King's Cup match at Athletic Bilbao, said the World Player ceremony would be a "Barca fiesta" given that all three nominees were products of the club's youth system.

"Of course winning would be especially exciting for me and an honour," the World Cup winner, who will be 31 on January 25, told a news conference on Thursday.

Villarreal have a chance to trim the gap to second-placed Real Madrid to five points when they take on Jose Mourinho's side at the Bernabeu.

However, their chances of upsetting Real in front of their own fans have been hurt by injuries to Brazil striker Nilmar and former Spain midfielder Marcos Senna.


"We are still alive in the King's Cup and the Europa League and we want to win one of the two and then finish in the top four in the (domestic) league," coach Juan Carlos Garrido told a news conference on Wednesday.

"To do that we have to maintain a good level every day."

Nilmar is to have surgery on a knee problem and Senna has damaged a hamstring and both will be out until February.

Real coach Mourinho has injury problems of his own and the club confirmed this week that first-choice striker Gonzalo Higuain needs a back operation and will be sidelined for around two months.

With Karim Benzema the only other recognised striker in the squad, Mourinho has the option of giving the erratic France international his chance or pushing La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo up to centre forward.

Ronaldo is suffering from the flu and Mourinho has rested his Portuguese compatriot for the King's Cup last 16, second leg at Levante later on Thursday, for which Real have an 8-0 advantage from last month's first leg.

"It is difficult for a footballer to live without being able to play," Mourinho said of Higuain.

"I hope we can give him hope to be useful to the team at the end of May.

"In order for that to happen, we will have to be in a situation in which our games are still decisive.

"This could act as a sort of beacon for him. We can help him with this sort of motivation."

On Sunday, fourth-placed Valencia play at city rivals Levante and Espanyol, who are fifth, host struggling Real Zaragoza. Sixth-placed Atletico Madrid travel to Alicante to take on promoted Hercules on Monday.

Sporting Gijon are in last place in the standings and coach Manuel Preciado will be fighting to keep his job when the Asturians play at Racing Santander on Sunday.