Thiago Alcantara warns Barcelona must focus on Athletic Bilbao
Last Updated: 30/11/12 1:00pm
Thiago: Focused on task in hand
Barcelona midfielder Thiago has warned his side they cannot afford to let their thoughts wander to the Madrid derby when they host Athletic Bilbao.
The Primera Division leaders take to the pitch two hours before their nearest challengers Atletico travel to champions Real in a match which could see the Catalans' 11-point lead over their bitter rivals extended.
Second-placed Atletico are just three points off the top, though, and Thiago admitted Barca have to win if they want to benefit from the result in the other game.
"We're in good shape and we want to finish the year with the same confidence as we have now," he said.
"Any result between Real Madrid and Atlético can benefit us as long as we win our own match."
The 21-year-old, who played his first full match this season in the Copa Del Rey win over Alaves in midweek after overcoming injury problems, insisted it was too early to write off Real's chances of overhauling Barca.
"They're always dangerous opponents," he added.
The hosts go into the game with two of their players again in contention for the FIFA Ballon d'Or crown.
Lionel Messi is going for the award for a fourth successive time and Andres Iniesta is also on the three-man shortlist.
Athletic Bilbao forward Iker Muniain claimed the Argentinian deserved the prize.
He could reach another milestone on Saturday , needing three more goals to take him to 85 in 2012, which would equal former West Germany and Bayern Munich striker Gerd Muller's record, set in 1972.
"He is the best in the world and it is impossible to stop him," the 19-year-old Muniain said.
Thiago also paid tribute to his team-mate, but said those around him deserved as much credit.
"One scores the goals and others give the final pass," he said. "I don't see much difference between Andras, Leo and Xavi."
While Barca have won 12 and drawn one of their opening 13 league games, Athletic's concerns still lie with moving further clear from the bottom three.
Last season's Europa League and Copa Del Rey finalists have started the season slowly and were hammered 5-1 by Real two weeks ago.
Thiago said: "They've gone down compared to last year. The departure of Javi Martinez (who joined Bayern Munich) has affected them a bit, but they have quality players and at any moment they can go up again."
Barca are still missing Alexis Sanchez through injury, but, like Thiago, David Villa played the whole game against Alaves as he continued his recovery from the broken ankle he suffered last season. The Spain striker said he has been training since Monday with not ankle problems.
Bilbao boss Marcelo Bielsa could make changes after visitors had a trip to Israel in midweek for their rescheduled Europa League clash against Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which they won 2-1.