Barcelona wary of Levante threat

Barcelona continues its La Liga campaign place Levante at Camp Nou on Saturday.

After suffering its first loss of the La Liga season last weekend, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Getafe, Barcelona responded with a comfortable 4-0 thrashing Rayo Vallecano midweek.

Despite suffering just its first loss of the season against Getafe, Barcelona has been bettered by the pace of Real Madrid, which leads La Liga on 34 points through 13 games. The Catalans sit second with 31 points from 14 games.

Levante, occupying fourth with 26 points from 13 games, could prove to be another speed bump in Barcelona's road to the Spanish title, and Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola is well aware of the threat.

"The most important match is always the next one, against Levante," Guardiola said. "They were a strong, physical side last year. They started the season well and that's taken off some of the pressure. But this is a good chance for us to build a gap between us and them."

While Levante has been impressive for the majority this season, it dropped three-straight matches from Oct. 30 to Nov. 20. The team responded by cruising to a 4-0 win over Sporting Gijon in their most recent outing.

Sporting Gijon, sitting toward the bottom of the table, will now be up against the wall when it hosts Real Madrid on Saturday.

Real Madrid has been in scintillating form throughout the year, leading La Liga with an approximate average of 3.5 goals scored per game. Real has won nine straight in the league and has not lost since Sept. 18.

But the leaders could be without Cristiano Ronaldo for Saturday's clash. The Portuguese hit man suffered an ankle injury in its last contest, a 4-1 defeat of Atletico Madrid, and no timetable has been given for his return.

Elsewhere on Saturday, third-place Valencia hopes to remain in the title chase as it hosts Espanyol at the Mestalla, and last-place Racing looks to snap a three-game winless run and climb out of the cellar with its match against Villarreal.

La Liga resumes on Sunday with a host of appetizing fixtures. Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano, deadlocked on 16 points apiece, square off at the Vicente Calderon with a place in the top half of the table at stake.

Malaga looks to claim its third-straight win in league play when it faces Real Sociedad, while Real Betis travels to Osasuna hoping to secure its first win since Sept. 22.

Sunday's La Liga action is completed with Mallorca hosting Athletic Bilbao and Granada hosting Real Zaragoza, followed on Monday by Sevilla hosting Getafe at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.