Sanchez and Thiago back for Barcelona

Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend's matches:

Barcelona have forward Alexis Sanchez and midfielder Thiago Alcantara available for Saturday's match at Sevilla after the pair were given the all-clear following brief injury layoffs, the club said on Friday.

A win for the Spanish, European and world champions at Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan stadium would trim the gap to Real Madrid to seven points ahead of the leaders' game at home to fourth-placed Malaga on Sunday.

Barca are still reeling from the announcement on Thursday that their France defender Eric Abidal needs a liver transplant.

Abidal is unlikely to play again this season and Adriano or captain Carles Puyol are possible options for coach Pep Guardiola in the 32-year-old's left-back slot.

Spanish media reported on Friday that Abidal's enforced absence mean Barca will attempt to lure Spain left-back Jordi Alba from Valencia in the close-season.

Real striker Karim Benzema is back to full fitness after being sidelined by a muscle tear as Jose Mourinho's side prepare to host big-spending Malaga.

"I am feeling very good physically and there is no problem with the adductor muscle," the France international said in an interview published in Friday's As sports daily. "I am back to full fitness and full of confidence."

Malaga defender Nacho Monreal is hopeful the team can reproduce the form that enabled them to open a surprise 2-0 lead at Real in a King's Cup game in January, although they went on to lose the match 3-2.

"We're in the Champions League qualification places and the team is on good form: excited, confident and hoping to play like we did in the cup and take three points away from the Bernabeu," Monreal told a news conference on Friday.

"We know they're very powerful in attack, but also that they sometimes allow an opening so we need to take advantage to try to damage them and give ourselves more of a chance."

Third-placed Valencia, Athletic Bilbao in seventh, and eighth-placed Atletico Madrid are all on a high after impressive Europa League performances midweek as all three progressed to the last eight of Europe's second-tier club competition.

Valencia are four points ahead of Malaga and play at Bilbao on Sunday, when Atletico travel to the Balearic Islands to take on Real Mallorca.

Bottom side Real Zaragoza, six points adrift of 19th-placed Sporting Gijon, desperately need a win at home to Osasuna on Saturday if they are to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

"We are playing a strong team who are having a good season and it won't be at all easy," coach Manolo Jimenez told a news conference on Friday. "They are a strong and battle-hardened side who fight for every ball."


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