Fabregas back in Barca squad for Sevilla clash
Leaders Barcelona have Cesc Fabregas back in the squad for Saturday's match at home to Sevilla after the Spain midfielder shrugged off a hamstring injury sustained in training on October 1, Barca said on their website on Friday.
The return of the former Arsenal captain means coach Pep Guardiola now has only three injury absentees: Spain centre-back Gerard Pique and Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, who should both return soon, and Netherlands midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, who is likely to miss most of the season after knee surgery.
Barca, who are level on 17 points with surprise package Levante at the top, have not conceded a goal for five games in all competitions. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes is an hour away from breaking his record of 577 minutes unbeaten.
"The team is defending very well," he told the club's TV channel on Thursday. "We are winning the ball back very quickly and are working extremely hard on keeping up the pressure."
Real Madrid are a point behind Barca and Levante in third and face a potentially tricky trip on Saturday to big-spending Malaga, the Qatar-owned club bidding for a European qualification berth this season.
Real's Argentina winger Angel di Maria believes the team is playing much better than last season as they have had more time to gel under coach Jose Mourinho, now in his second term.
"Last year we were already very good, but this season we are developing as a group even more because we have already been together for a year," Di Maria told the club's TV channel on Friday.
"The players who have arrived have adapted very well and very quickly," he added.
Malaga, coached by Mourinho's predecessor at Real, Manuel Pellegrini, slipped up in their last outing, losing 3-0 at Levante after having goalkeeper Willy Caballero sent off in the 27th minute.
The club's Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla, who joined from Villarreal in the close season, said Malaga will have to play "a perfect game" if they are to defeat Real.
"Our tactics will not change, whoever our opponent is," he said in an interview with As sports daily published Friday. "But it being Real Madrid, it's clear that you cannot make a single mistake because you'll pay dearly."
Pellegrini is without Julio Baptista for the game at the Rosaleda. The Brazil forward, who had two stints with Real, as well as time at Sevilla, Arsenal and AS Roma, has failed to recover from a foot injury. Goalkeeper Caballero is suspended.
Mourinho can expect a hostile reception from Malaga fans after he made comments about the club last season that were seen as belittling to Pellegrini.
At a news conference on Friday, Mourinho claimed he had been misinterpreted and insisted he wished Malaga the best.
"I hope Malaga, while losing [to us] tomorrow, get to where the project wants to get, which is playing Champions League next season and with the quality they have I hope and wish they can do it," the Portuguese said.
Levante, the tiny Valencia-based club who stunned visiting Real Madrid 1-0 last month, are undefeated in seven games this season and can make it six straight wins at Villarre