BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona and Real Madrid both face matches against tough Spanish league rivals on Sunday after a pair of lackluster performances.
Barcelona visits Valencia after winning the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday despite being outplayed by Atletico Madrid in a 0-0 home draw in which Lionel Messi missed a late penalty.
Madrid has pulled out two uninspiring wins by a one-goal margin to start the season and hosts an Athletic Bilbao side that has also proved perfect through the opening two rounds.
Also, Real Sociedad hosts Atletico Madrid in a meeting of Spain's other two Champions League sides.
Barcelona started the season with a 7-0 thrashing of Levante. But since then it has had a 1-0 win at Malaga and two draws with Atletico that have raised doubts about its form under new coach Gerardo Martino.
Not even new signing Neymar playing all 90 minutes could help Barcelona break through Atletico's disciplined defense Wednesday.
"We have to improve the circulation of the ball, be faster, try to find more spaces so we can score," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "We will do it. Our attitude is good. Against Valencia we have to show our best version to take the three points."
Questions of Messi's fitness have yet to go away either. The Argentina forward has already sustained two minor muscle injuries in recent weeks after missing several games at the end of last season due to a hamstring pull.
Messi played the entire game against Atletico, but was lacking his usual spark and deadly finishing touch.
Valencia coach Miroslav Djukic scolded his players after last week's bad loss at Espanyol. It will be interesting to see if they respond with an energized effort at home on Sunday or if this is the beginning of a split between the squad and staff.
Valencia bolstered its humdrum attack by signing striker Dorlan Pabon this week.
Madrid hosts Bilbao amid two ongoing sagas that are coming to a head.
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