Previews: Barca must set aside transfer distractions

MADRID - Champions Barcelona still have last-minute transfer dealings distracting them before the opening game of their La Liga title defence away to Racing Santander.

Pep Guardiola's side play on Sunday with attempts to sign Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano from Liverpool on-going and talks with AC Milan to off-load Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic still in full swing.

Nevertheless, Barca have already proved they will need little time to pick up where they left off last May, having hammered Sevilla 4-0 last weekend to lift the Spanish Super Cup.

Their highest-profile new recruit, Spain striker David Villa, scored his first goal in a 1-1 friendly draw against AC Milan at the Nou Camp on Wednesday and has settled in quickly.

"It's very satisfying to get off the mark here like that," he told reporters.

"I felt very comfortable in the team again as I did in the Super Cup. It's very easy to fit in with the footballers in this squad."

Ibrahimovic, who started against Milan but then criticised Guardiola after the game, will probably miss out.

Barca's arch-rivals Real Madrid travel to Real Mallorca on Sunday for Jose Mourinho's first competitive game since replacing Manuel Pellegrini at the helm.

His side have been solid if unspectacular in warm-up games as he has experimented with line-ups and formations.

Of the new recruits, Argentina winger Angel Di Maria has caught the eye with two goals in the last two games, but Mourinho's biggest problem is in defence.

With Raul Albiol, Pepe and Ezequiel Garay all injured Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho will probably act as a stand in centre back pairing.


Financially troubled Mallorca are also unveiling a new coach, former Danish international Michael Laudrup.

He has a tough task to replicate last season's fifth-place finish under Gregorio Manzano, the club relying heavily on their youth system to bolster their squad.

Valencia start a new era without Spain duo Villa and David Silva, who had to be sold over the summer to help reduce crippling debts despite achieving a Champions League place.

They open their campaign away to Malaga on Saturday without injured new striker Roberto Soldado.

Malaga are marked out as a side to watch after being bought by a member of the Qatari royal family in June.

They have appointed former Porto boss Jesualdo Ferreira to head up their new project, and have brought in seven new players.

The three promoted clubs all face tough opening-day encounters. Real Sociedad are at home to Villarreal on Sunday while Hercules and Levante host Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla respectively on Saturday.

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