BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — In dire need of recovering its confidence and dominant form, Barcelona couldn't have asked for a better opponent than Spanish league struggler Deportivo La Coruna as it prepares for a critical Champions League match against AC Milan.
Three days after Saturday's home game against Deportivo, Barcelona will host Milan with the daunting task of overturning a 2-0 deficit in the second leg of the last 16. With back-to-back losses to Real Madrid, and the defeat at Milan, Barcelona is mired in its worst run of results in major games since before former coach Pep Guardiola started the club's winning era in 2008.
"We come from major defeats and we should all give more to change the situation," said Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who will be aiming to extend his league record of scoring in 16 straight matches. "We know that the match against Milan will be key to helping us make important changes."
Barcelona is on course to reclaim the league title with an 11-point lead over nearest chaser Atletico Madrid. But to boost its prospects against Milan, it must find its attacking flair and shore up its defense on Saturday. While Barcelona's attack has sputtered in recent games, its defense has been even worse by conceding goals in its last 13 matches.
Deportivo is in last place and eight points from salvation, and has yet to win away from home this season in 13 tries. "Barcelona has had some results they didn't expect and you never know if that means it's better or worse to play them now," veteran Deportivo midfielder Juan Carlos Valeron said. "We won't waste our opportunities, even though we know it will be tough. They have an important game this week so maybe we have options to get a good result."
Malaga has a more difficult run-up to its Champions League match against FC Porto on Wednesday when it must come back from a 1-0 loss in the first leg to advance to the quarterfinals. Malaga visits Valladolid on Saturday and needs a victory to ensure it holds onto fourth place and the last Champions League spot for next season, although its focus will likely be on this year's European campaign with it facing a one-season ban from UEFA competitions for not paying wages and taxes on time.
Malaga is winless in its last two league matches besides also losing at Porto. "First, we are thinking about our game against Valladolid," said Malaga defender Vitorino Antunes, who joined in the winter market to replace Nacho Monreal after he left for Arsenal. "We want to get back to winning in the Spanish league to get as many points as possible and then we will have time to think about Porto."
Sunday features the most highly anticipated match of the weekend between Atletico and surging Real Sociedad. Atletico's perfect record of 13 wins in 13 league games at Vicente Calderon Stadium will be tested by a Sociedad side that is playing some of the best attacking football in the league. The Basque club is challenging for a top-four finish after having lost just once in its last 16 games.
The match promises to be a contest of differing styles, pitting Atletico's more physical unit and striker Radamel Falcao against the free-flowing play of Sociedad and forward Carlos Vela. Madrid visits relegation-threatened Celta Vigo on Sunday in third place, 13 points behind Barcelona, despite its win over the Catalan side last weekend.
Celta beat Madrid 2-1 in the Copa del Rey in December, before succumbing in the second leg, but the greatest danger Jose Mourinho's team should face is a let down after its dramatic elimination of Manchester United from the Champions League on Tuesday.
Also, Real Betis hosts Osasuna on Friday. On Saturday, Espanyol visits Rayo Vallecano and Mallorca hosts Sevilla. If Malaga stumbles, Valencia could move into fourth place with a win at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, when Levante hosts Getafe. Real Zaragoza plays Granada on Monday.