MADRID, March 2 (Reuters) - Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend’s soccer matches (times GMT):
* As well as missing the suspended Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, Barcelona will be without fullback Eric Abidal who picked up a groin injury while on international duty with France, for Saturday’s game at home to strugglers Sporting Gijon (1900).
Abidal will be sidelined for some 10 days, Barca said on their website (www.fcbarcelona.com). Midfielder Thiago Alcantara was a doubt for Saturday due to a problem with his right tibia sustained on duty with Spain, they added.
* Barca are in second place, 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid with 14 games left, and forward Pedro believes that if the champions drop any more points their bid for a fourth straight La Liga title will be in peril.
“We have to try and not lose any more and wait for Madrid to drop points to cut into their lead,” Pedro, whose season has been disrupted by injury, told a news conference on Thursday.
“We won’t give up on this title and we’ll fight until the end.”
* Gijon manager Javier Clemente, who coached his Barca counterpart Pep Guardiola when in charge of Spain in the 1990s, does not believe the absence of Messi and Busquets will significantly weaken the Catalans.
“There is such a big gap between the top two and the rest that two players being out is almost anecdotal,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Sport daily published on Friday.
“When a team has 70 percent possession it’s almost an obligation for them to win,” the 61-year-old added.
* Jose Mourinho’s Real side host eighth-placed Espanyol on Sunday (2030) amid fresh speculation that the Portuguese coach is set to move on at the end of the season after he was photographed in London and British media reported he was house hunting.
“I have no idea,” Real captain Iker Casillas was quoted as saying when asked about Mourinho. “I don’t know what every person will or won’t do. Nobody knows what can happen.”
* Espanyol’s Ivory Coast midfielder Ndri Romaric has tasted victory at the Bernabeu with his previous club Sevilla and is convinced the Barcelona-based side can boost their Champions League qualification hopes with a win at Real.
“In football we all know that it is possible to win,” he was quoted as saying in Friday’s edition of As. “We will be faithful to our philosophy and we will go there without fear.”
* Levante, who host Real Betis on Monday (2000), occupy Spain’s fourth Champions League qualification place, five points behind third-placed Valencia, who play at Granada on Sunday (1700).
Levante have 35 points and only eight separate them from Villarreal in 17th in a congested table. Athletic Bilbao, Malaga and Osasuna all have 34 points, Espanyol are on 33, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have 32 and Rayo Vallecano are on 31.
* Sevilla forward Jose Antonio Reyes will be playing against his previous club Atletico on Saturday (2100) for the first time since his move back to the Andalusian club in the January transfer window.
Atletico, who lost 2-1 to Barca last weekend, will be without suspended top scorer Radamel Falcao, while Sevilla are going for a third straight win under new coach Michel.
* Bottom side Real Zaragoza, who are six points behind 19th-placed Gijon, appear doomed to relegation and desperately need a win at home to Villarreal on Sunday (1100).
Zaragoza coach Manolo Jimenez said he was “ashamed” of their performance last weekend when they took the lead at Malaga but ended up on the wrong end of a 5-1 drubbing. (Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Clare Fallon)