Barcelona look to build
© AFP

Spanish league leaders Barcelona look to build on their impressive UEFA Champions League demolition of Sporting Lisbon when they travel to Sevilla on Saturday. A Lionel Messi-inspired 5-2 victory in Portugal, which secured his team's place in the Champions League knockout stages, once again illustrated their dependency on the Argentinian.

He was given a break last weekend against Getafe and, without him, Barca lacked impetus and only managed to draw. Messi started the game against Sporting in the centre of the three attacking players, but then went to the flanks after the team went ahead.

"Messi played in the No9 role because Sporting played with a diamond formation, and I thought that if he was in the middle then he could take on their centre-backs directly," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola. "Playing out wide is more demanding and we wanted to protect him."

Sevilla will be looking to improve their strike rate as, despite their attacking style, they have been struggling for goals this season. Striker Luis Fabiano has been passed fit along with defenders Sebastian Squillaci and Julien Escude.

Real Madrid, who are also in the next round of the Champions League, reduced the gap at the top of the table to three points with an unimpressive win over Recreativo Huelva last week, and they now face Getafe with a long list of injuries, headed by Ruud van Nistelrooy. At least they were buoyed on Thursday by seeing Arjen Robben and Fabio Cannavaro return to training.

Villarreal had been the only remaining unbeaten team in the league until they fell apart against giant-killers Valladolid last weekend. Now, with qualification to the next round of the Champions League secured, they can concentrate on the league, starting with their next opponents Recreativo who are bottom of the table without a win in eleven weeks.

The visit of Real Betis to Valencia will be a special game for their former player Joaquin Sanchez. In-form Betis, though, will have their eyes on victory with Valencia having lost their last two games at home, and while they are without the injured Xisco Munoz they welcome back Fernando Vega.

Returning home
Atletico Madrid fans will return to the Calderon this weekend, having been banned by UEFA for their Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven which was played behind closed doors. They will host Racing Santander, in a key battle for Champions League places. Atletico will give a late fitness test to Luis Perea, while Racing, who travel in confident mood after a comprehensive win over Espanyol, will be without the injured Jose Moraton and Oriol Lozano.

Almeria's European ambitions took a knock with defeat last weekend by lowly Osasuna, but they will hope to respond against Deportivo La Coruna who are looking stronger than they have for several seasons. They will do so with Jose Chico, who has recovered from an Achilles injury, but Iriney Santos and Miguel Nieto remain in the treatment room.

Since being crushed by Barcelona 6-0, Valladolid have bounced back with impressive wins over Real Madrid and Villarreal, and they will be hoping to continue their surge up the table against Mallorca who have not had a victory in the league for over a month.

Osasuna will hope to build on their first victory of the season against Almeria when they travel to mid-table Malaga. Their battle to move out of the relegation zone has been buoyed by the return of Jaroslav Plasil, who has missed two weeks through injury.

Espanyol know that they cannot afford to lose at Montjuic against Sporting Gijon with the drop zone looming ever closer after three straight defeats.

Athletic Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz has called for his team-mates to be calm in the face of their relegation clash with Numancia, claiming that it is not an 'all or nothing' contest. Fran Yeste is ready to return after missing last weekend's defeat by Deportivo la Coruna. Numancia, meanwhile, will be without the injured Antonio Guayre and Sergio Boris.