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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 17, 2011

Thiago demands blistering return

The Primera League campaign resumes this weekend following the international fortnight, with Barcelona's Thiago defending his side's post-break record.

The three-time defending champions are second in the table, three points behind Real Madrid, but have drawn four of their 11 games so far.

One particular stalemate, a 2-2 draw away to Real Sociedad, came after an international break, raising questions over whether or not Pep Guardiola's side struggle for momentum after a week away from domestic action.

Thiago has played that down, though, and ahead of this weekend's home meeting with Real Zaragoza, told the club's official website: "The fact that we've had complications in games after international breaks is fairly random.

"We're back and we have the same desire to win as we did before. The fact that the majority of Barca's first-team players are named in national squads is great. It shows the hard work the players put in at the club.''

Thiago also defended team-mate Lionel Messi, who has been accused by some critics of being unable to replicate his outstanding club form when away on international duty with Argentina.

"It's a real joy to be able to play games and train alongside Leo Messi, he's a one-of-a-kind player,'' he added. "I don't understand the critics, but you have to respect them. Messi should always play.''

Real Madrid's title credentials will face their sternest examination so far when Jose Mourinho and his players head to third-placed Valencia.

Madrid's freescoring form has won them plenty of admirers - they have scored five more goals than Barca so far - but the man who has scored a third of their 39 goals is an injury concern.

Cristiano Ronaldo picked up an injury while helping his Portugal side into the Euro 2012 finals in a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina, with his club admitting as much in a statement on their official website.

They did not, however, commit to saying whether or not he and team-mate Alvaro Arbeloa would be fit to face Unai Emery's men.

"Cristiano Ronaldo did not train due to a strain in the adductor muscle of his left thigh and neither did Arbeloa, who is suffering from a strain in his left hamstring,'' read the statement.

Both Barca and Madrid play on Saturday, as do mid-table duo Villarreal and Real Betis who square-up at El Madrigal.

Atletico Madrid take on deposed leaders Levante on Sunday, with coach Gregorio Manzano checking on the fitness of a number of key players.

Turkey playmaker Arda Turan is struggling and has missed training this week, while Colombia striker Falcao has a hamstring problem that he is receiving treatment for.

Antonio Lopez is trying to overcome a knee problem and Silvio a groin strain, but Jose Antonio Reyes has shaken off a virus.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Real Sociedad host Espanyol in the early kick-off, while Rayo Vallecano head to Osasuna.

Malaga travel to Racing Santander in one of the day's evening kick-offs, with Sebastian Fernandez hoping for more game time.

The Uruguay striker scored the winner for his country as they beat Italy 1-0 on Rome on Tuesday, and he hopes he has shown club coach Manuel Pellegrini what he is capable of.

"I feel amazing, because this group (Uruguay) is amazing. Every time we get together it is a pleasure,'' he told reporters this week. I hope I have convinced (the coach) that I can play a bit more in Malaga.''

In other games, Sporting Gijon face Getafe, fifth-placed Sevilla tackle Athletic Bilbao and lowly Granada meet Mallorca.

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