Madrid, feb 17: Barcelona welcomes Valencia to the Camp Nou as it looks to rebound from its second loss of the season and keep pressure on Spanish leader Real Madrid, whose record-setting pace has provided a 10-point lead over the Catalan team ahead of playing Racing Santander.
Madrid has won 17 of its last 18 games, with the only loss coming against Barcelona, to put it on course for setting league records for points and goals scored in a season. Cristiano Ronaldo's league-high 27 goals have him on course to break his own season record of 40 goals.
Barcelona recovered from Saturday's 3-2 loss at Osasuna with a midweek Champions League victory, but the squad has a number of injury concerns ahead of Sunday's match with Xavi Hernandez having missed Tuesday's 3-1 victory at Bayer Leverkusen.
"The Champions League results will have an effect on the league," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes said on Thursday. "Let's hope that performance recharges us for the league."
While Xavi has a calf injury, Gerard Pique was left out of the team to play Leverkusen following a poor performance in Pamplona and he was also involved in a car accident on the eve of the match in Germany.
With Javier Mascherano and Daniel Alves suspended for the Valencia match, coach Pep Guardiola also probably wanted to rest Pique against Leverkusen with speculation mounting about his ability to maintain concentration.
"Pique seems great, like always. We shouldn't focus on this," Valdes said. "He's the world's best center back. Nothing's changed."
Mali midfielder Seydou Keita has returned from the African Cup of Nations while midfielder Ibrahim Afellay is training again after missing most of the season following knee surgery.
Barcelona eliminated Valencia from the Copa del Rey and Sunday's match will be the third meeting in two weeks. Valencia is coming off a 4-0 rout of Sporting Gijon and can move within five points of Barcelona with a surprise victory.
Madrid players Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira have returned to training after being sidelined for more than a month by injury, while midfielder Lassana Diarra also trained ahead of Saturday's match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Madrid has 58 points with 15 matches to play to eclipse Barcelona's record total of 99 points from 2009-10. Having scored 75 goals in 22 games, Madrid appears certain to pass its own mark of 107 goals during the 1989-90 season.
Madrid is more preoccupied with a defense — especially on set-pieces — that has been surprisingly poor in 2012 with the first leg of the last-16 match at CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.
New Sporting Gijon coach Javier Clemente begins Sunday with a tough match against Atletico Madrid, which is unbeaten since Diego Simeone took over as coach in January. Clemente's team is six points away from escaping the relegation zone.
Villarreal is coming off consecutive wins for the first time this season going into Sunday's game at Mallorca, with Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi having returned to training since undergoing knee surgery in October.
In other 24th-round games, it's: Getafe vs. Espanyol; Sevilla vs. Osasuna; Granada vs. Real Sociedad; Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga; Levante vs. Rayo Vallecano and Zaragoza vs. Real Betis.