Barcelona defender Dani Alves believes his side are getting better each season after opening up a sizeable seven point lead at the top of the La Liga table but they face a tough test away to Valencia on Wednesday.
Second-placed Real Madrid saw a glimmer of hope as Barcelona appeared to struggle in recent weeks but at the weekend they rediscovered their form against Mallorca despite missing several key players. Without Xavi Hernandez, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and Dani Alves they took their time to find their rhythm but after Leo Messi headed home the opener, they took control and ran out 3-0 winners.
"The most important thing is that we don't doubt ourselves. Our aim is to improve year on year and we know that (Real) Madrid are always going to be very competitive. Barcelona are better than last year as we have taken a step forward and we will try to keep progressing," said Alves. "The team will definitely do well and we showed against Mallorca that although we don't have a very big squad we have a lot of quality."
They now face a Valencia side that is staking a claim for a UEFA Champions League place after an impressive run since Christmas. Despite selling important players last summer they are still a dangerous opponent as they showed at the weekend when they came from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao in their intimidating San Mames stadium. "They are definitely going to be in high spirits after winning at a ground as difficult as Athletic's but we need to keep concentrating on ourselves and we know that seven points is not a particularly big lead," added Alves.
Madrid continue hunt
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was left criticising the calendar after his team could only draw 0-0 with Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday night. He felt they should have had an extra day to recover after their mid-week Champions League fixture. As they prepare to face Racing Santander, director Emilio Butragueno has backed the team saying they can still win the league. "There is no way that the league is lost as there are still a lot of games to be played. We deserved to win against Deportivo but we didn't have the luck," he explained.
Villarreal, who play Hercules, scrambled a 2-2 draw in the final minute against Racing Santander but despite a poor run in the league they have a comfortable seven-point cushion over Espanyol below them. Espanyol and Athletic are leading the chase for the UEFA Europa League places and take on Mallorca and Zaragoza respectively.
Below them Sevilla and Atletico Madrid remain inconsistent and drew 2-2 in a disappointing game at the Calderon with little entertainment despite the quality players in both sides. Sevilla meet Sporting Gijon while Atletico have a local derby with Getafe.
Real Sociedad need to pick themselves up from their hammering by Espanyol as they face a Levante side which has won four of their last five games with their only defeat away to Real Madrid.