Sociedad seek Herculean effort at Barcelona

MADRID - Real Sociedad have outperformed since climbing back into the top flight this season and are looking to emulate fellow promoted side Hercules when they play at leaders Barcelona in La Liga on Sunday.

The San Sebastian-based club lie sixth after 14 of 38 matches and have put fellow Basques Athletic Bilbao, whom they beat 2-0 last weekend, in the shade with a string of impressive home performances.

Hercules stunned Barca 2-0 at the Nou Camp in September, a first home defeat in the league for the Catalan giants since May 2009, and Sociedad defender Mikel Gonzalez believes he and his team mates are capable of causing another upset.

Barca, however, are riding high after thrashing arch rivals Real Madrid 5-0 in the "Clasico" late last month and World Cup-winners Andres Iniesta and Xavi, along with Argentina forward Lionel Messi, were named on the three-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or award this week.

"Taking on the best players in the world is an incentive and an honour," Gonzalez said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"I would by no means rule out imitating what Hercules did," he added. "Knowing that they managed to win there gives you a boost in confidence and hope."

Barca, who rested most of their first team in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League victory over Rubin Kazan, have a two-point lead over Real at the top of the standings with just over a third of the season played.

The Madrid club can climb back above them with a win at last-placed Real Zaragoza earlier on Sunday having put their crushing defeat in the Catalan capital behind them with a 2-0 home victory over Valencia last weekend.


Villarreal are third, five points behind Real, and play at ninth-placed Getafe on Saturday.

With La Liga already shaping up as another two-horse race between Barca and Real, Villarreal defender Mateo Musacchio said the club were focusing on putting distance between themselves and their rivals for lucrative European qualification spots.

"The more points we accumulate and the bigger the gap we open up the better but we know that there is a long way to go," the Argentine told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We are in very good shape and can cope with any team but we have to maintain our current form," he added.

Espanyol, who are fourth, two points behind Villarreal, play at Bilbao on Sunday and coach Mauricio Pochettino said he doesn't want his players to be distracted by December 18's home game against city rivals Barca.

"The Bilbao one is the most important match and I won't rest anyone," the former Argentina international told a news conference. "Anyone who comes to the stadium thinking about Barca is no use to me and would be better staying at home."