Cesc, durant el FCB-València. FOTO: ARXIU FCB.

Barça’s quest to cut down Real Madrid’s lead continues tonight against Sporting Gijón. After impressive wins against Valencia (5-1) and Atlético Madrid (1-2), there is new hope that the ten point deficit can be reduced. But to keep the dream alive, they’ll need a further three points against the Asturians, following a week in which there has been practically no time to prepare due to most of the squad’s international commitments.

The international effect

And two of the players that were away on international duty, Éric Abidal and Thiago Alcántara, have come back injured. The Frenchman is out for ten days with a groin strain, while the Spanish-Brazilian has swollen membrane on his tibia and is in doubt for the game. To add to FCB’s woes, both Messi and Busquets are suspended, while Villa, Afellay and Fontàs, of course, are sidelined with long term injuries

This will be the first league game this season that Barcelona will start without the triple Ballon d’Or winner and current Liga top scorer.

The game will be a reencounter for Pep Guardiola with Javier Clemente, who took over as manager of Sporting a fortnight ago, and managed the current Barça coach when he was in charge of the Spanish national team from 1992 to 1998. It will also give Guardiola the chance to meet up with another old friend, Abelardo, who was at Barça from 1994 to 2002, and is now Clemente’s assistant.

Six points from safety

Sporting are coming to the Camp Nou in desperate need of points, for they are currently in the relegation zone, and six points away from safety. With just one win in 40 league visits, history is very much against the red-and-whites, but Clemente reckons Barça can be surprised by “applying pressure up front and getting the ball out quick”. If there is to be a shock, Sporting will need to get it without the services of the injured Colunga and Lora.

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