Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets believes an April showdown with bitter rivals Real Madrid will decide the Spanish league title despite seeing their lead cut to just two points.
The Catalan giants were forced to field a makeshift defence in their first defeat of the season against Atletico Madrid last weekend, allowing Los Blancos to close the gap at the top of La Liga with a routine win away to basement club Xerez.
Barcelona face Racing Santander this weekend but 21-year-old Busquets, son of former Barca keeper Carles, already has his eyes on the mouthwatering clash against Manuel Pellegrini's Real Madrid in two months' time. "The match at the Bernabeu will go a long way to deciding who wins and loses the title but there is a long way to go before that and we have a lot of games that will also have a big impact like this weekend," said the Spanish international.
"I don't think it was such a big deal to lose because one day or another it was going to happen and now it is necessary that we remain strong at home. Teams come to the Nou Camp with a lot of ambition as we are the side to beat." Pep Guardiola will have to do without influential midfielder Xavi, who is the latest player to join the injury list, meaning Rafa Marquez could move from centre-back.
Real suffered a disappointing UEFA Champions League defeat by Lyon in mid-week and defender Alvaro Arbeloa says the players are now looking for a win against Villarreal to boost morale. "There are three weeks before we play the second leg of the Champions League and we have a key game against Villarreal coming up where we will need to get our game back on track and give ourselves confidence," the former Liverpool player said.
"We are two points off Barcelona and we will do our best to reduce that lead. We need to win our next few games as that will set the tone for the rest of the season."
Third-placed Valencia aim to continue their good run of form against Getafe, while there is a crunch match below them between Sevilla and Mallorca for fourth position. Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute is a fitness doubt so Alvaro Negredo could partner Luis Fabiano in attack for the trip to the Oni Estadi.
Meanwhile, Deportivo La Coruna are looking to bounce back after a poor performance against Espanyol when they take on Xerez. The victory over Barcelona has rekindled Atletico Madrid's hopes of winning a place in Europe but as they prepare to face Almeria, their main problem is that they still lack consistency.
"Hopefully we can play more games like the one against Barcelona. We have been working hard and I think gradually you are seeing the results of that," said Atletico striker Diego Forlan.
The situation remains just as tight at the foot of the table. Valladolid slipped down to 19th position following Tenerife's surprise win over Mallorca.
They now face a tough away trip to Osasuna, who have won four out of their last five games, while Tenerife have an equally difficult encounter against Athletic Bilbao. Zaragoza have moved out of the bottom three having picked up seven points from a possible nine and they will be hoping to continue the good run against Sporting Gijon.