Barcelona have been boosted by the successful return from injury of talismanic playmaker Andres Iniesta as they prepare to host city rivals Espanyol in La Liga on Sunday.
Iniesta played for the first time since damaging a calf muscle at the end of October in Wednesday’s 4-0 King’s Cup last-32, first leg victory at third-tier Huesca.
The Spain international, captaining the side in the absence of most of Barca’s rested regulars, bossed the game and scored a splendid goal reminiscent of his dramatic effort at Chelsea in 2009 that sent Barca through to the Champions League final.
The ball was played to him from the left across the top of the penalty area and his first-time shot arrowed into the top corner to make it 2-0 in the 16th minute.
“When you try a shot from outside the area sometimes it goes in,” the self-effacing Iniesta, a hero to Spain fans for his extra-time winner in the 2010 World Cup final, told reporters.
“I managed a good strike, although for me the most important thing was the overall feeling which makes me positive,” added the 30-year-old.
Iniesta can provide extra creativity in attack for second-placed Barca as they seek to keep pace with leaders Real Madrid, who are two points clear at the top after 13 matches and host Celta Vigo on Saturday.
A win for Carlo Ancelotti’s men at the Bernabeu will extend their club-record winning streak to 18 matches.
La Liga returns to action on Saturday less than a week after a Deportivo La Coruna supporter was killed in fighting between fan groups known as “ultras” near the stadium before the club’s match at champions Atletico Madrid last weekend.
Police will be on high alert for Atletico’s match at Elche and Deportivo’s game at home to Malaga on Saturday.
The Spanish government, soccer authorities and clubs have vowed to banish “ultras” from stadiums and their surroundings and Atletico have cut ties with their main group, the “Frente Atletico”.
David Moyes, the new coach of Real Sociedad, will be looking to maintain the Basque club’s improved form since he took over last month when they play at Villarreal on Sunday.