Soccer-Real and Barca search for momentum ahead of Clasico

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Group F - Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - October 5, 2022 Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti REUTERS/Susana Vera

MADRID (Reuters) - Normal service has resumed in LaLiga with bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona jostling for supremacy after last season when the Catalan giants were never in contention.

After Real Madrid dropped their first points of the campaign in a 1-1 home draw against Osasuna last Sunday, Spain's habitual top two were locked together at the top of standings on 19 points.

Both Real and Barca play important games over the weekend as they look to build momentum ahead of their El Clasico showdown on Oct. 16.

Real will make a 30 minute journey south of the Spanish capital to face Getafe on Saturday while Barcelona host a dangerous Celta Vigo side, who defeated Real Betis 1-0 last weekend.

After breezing past Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real side will be looking to bounce back from last week's draw when they travel to Getafe, where they lost last season.

The Italian has been able to rely on in-form attacking duo Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema to produce the goods and will be looking forward to the probable return of Luka Modric, who has been nursing a hip injury suffered while on international duty with Croatia.

Real will face Shakhtar again next week in a match that could secure them early qualification to the round of 16 and a morale boost before El Clasico.

Things are looking more complicated in Europe for Barca. While on a six-game winning streak in LaLiga with striker Robert Lewandowski on a roll, they have lost two consecutive Champions League games and will host Celta knowing that they face a crucial encounter against Inter Milan three days later at Camp Nou.

A third loss in four games would leave Barca in danger of being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage for the second consecutive season.

Coach Xavi will again have a major selection headache with several key players nursing injuries.

Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Hector Bellerin are all doubtful and Barca have a big problem in defence with Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen all out injured.

Attention will also be focused on the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium as Sevilla host Athletic Bilbao in new manager Jorge Sampaoli's debut, after he was appointed on Thursday following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.

It will be Sampaoli's second stint with the record six-times Europa League winners, who have suffered a poor start to the season, having won only one match in all competitions.

They are 17th in LaLiga on five points, a place and a point above the relegation zone after their worst start to a league season since being promoted back to the top-flight in 2001.

Led by former Barca manager Ernesto Valverde, Athletic are third in standings on 16 points, three behind leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid, having won five of their seven league games.

The last time Athletic were in the top three in LaLiga was 30 years ago, when former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes was the team’s manager.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Toby Davis)

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