Barca out to avoid 'FIFA virus' at Sociedad

MADRID - Barcelona have occasionally suffered a dip in form in recent seasons after their players returned from international duty and they are hoping to avoid a similar slip-up when they visit Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Argentine World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and 13 other first-team players arrived back from national team duty on Wednesday and the champions will try to maintain their perfect start to the campaign in San Sebastian following a 5-0 thrashing of visitors Villarreal on the opening matchday.

In the corresponding fixture in the 2008/09 season, Pep Guardiola's side succumbed to what is known in Spain as the "FIFA virus" and were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Racing Santander while last season promoted Hercules stunned the Nou Camp with an unlikely 2-0 victory.

"However much people think that leagues are decided by games against your main rivals I believe rather that you win or lose them playing at stadiums like the one on Saturday," Barca's Brazil full-back Daniel Alves said on Wednesday.

Guardiola has all his first-team players available except Gerard Pique, who is nursing a leg muscle injury.

Pique's partner in central defence, captain Carles Puyol, could make his first appearance since a knee operation in June, while full-backs Adriano and Maxwell and midfielder Ibrahim Afellay are also back in training after injury.

With one match played, the La Liga table has a familiar look to it, with Real top on goal difference after they humbled Real Zaragoza 6-0 away in their opening game and Barca second.

The crushing nature of the big two's victories prompted fresh grumblings about their domination of income from audiovisual rights.

A group of top-flight clubs, led by Sevilla, are meeting on Thursday to discuss whether the system can be changed to allow fairer revenue distribution like in rival European leagues.


Jose Mourinho's Real side host city rivals Getafe at the Bernabeu on Saturday and their opponents' new coach Luis Garcia, who joined from Levante at the end of last season, has no illusions about the size of the task his players face.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo and France striker Karim Benzema netted hat-tricks when Real destroyed Levante 8-0 in a King's Cup match last season.

"If you try to pressure them [Real] high up the pitch they can put five past you, or eight like in the Cup last year," Garcia said in an interview with sports daily Marca published on Thursday.

"And if you try to hang back and defend they can score six" as happened to Zaragoza," he added.

"We will try to get more possession than them, which will be tough and even harder at the Bernabeu, and then not allow them space to destroy us on the counter. Madrid are the best in the world at that."

Four of the teams who should be challenging for European berths next season play on Saturday.

Villarreal, who host Bayern Munich in Champions League Group A on Wednesday, are at home to Sevilla and Valencia, who play at Genk in Group E on Tuesday, host Atletico Madrid.