Barcelona aim to extend record at Gijon
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola hopes to celebrate his new contract extension by watching his league leaders stretch their record winning run with victory at Sporting Gijon on Saturday.
Barcelona sit seven points clear of Real Madrid after setting a new league record of 16 consecutive wins to beat the 50-year-old mark previously held by the great Real Madrid side of 1960/61. Guardiola gave the club another boost on Wednesday by signing a contract extension until 2012 and the champions are targeting a perfect 11th away win at Gijon on Saturday.
Barcelona look in command of the title race with their seven-point lead although Guardiola gave his players a dressing down last weekend saying the performance against Atletico Madrid was not up to scratch despite the 3-0 win.
Forward David Villa admits it is too early to talk about Barcelona being champions and said his side wouldn't rest until the title was under wraps. "The league is over when we are champions mathematically and second place can't catch us," said Villa. "We are only in February and no-one wins the league in February. We have a lot of work ahead of us and still have to get a lot of points."
Alternate Barcelona challenge for Real
Real Madrid travel to Barcelona's city rivals Espanyol on Sunday, looking to improve on their indifferent away record. Real have a flawless 11 wins at home but have dropped 12 points on the road, losing at Barcelona and Osasuna and drawing with Almeria, Levante and Real Mallorca.
Sixth-placed Espanyol have taken 24 points from a possible 30 at their Cornella-El Prat stadium and hope to take Real's scalp to reignite their UEFA Champions League hopes. Real coach Jose Mourinho urged his team to make Barcelona earn their third consecutive league crown.
"The important thing is we don't give away the league," Mourinho said. "I have only finished second once, in my third season with Chelsea, and if we finish second that's the way it is."
Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be Real's inspiration with 24 league goals, joint top-scorer with Barcelona's Lionel Messi, as the two superstars battle to win the Pichichi award for the league's leading goalscorer. Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor, on loan from Manchester City, hopes to shoulder the goals burden after scoring his first league goal in the 4-1 win over Real Sociedad last time out.
Atletico Madrid coach Quique Flores faces his old side Valencia on Saturday with his future hanging in the balance. Valencia, in fourth, are where Atletico want to be, but 14 points separate the two sides and Flores is struggling to hold on to his job despite winning the UEFA Europa League last season. Valencia coach Unai Emery was under pressure himself earlier in the season but that now seems to have passed with the club lying one point behind Villarreal in fourth and braced for a Champions League last 16 clash with Schalke.
Elsewhere new Racing Santander coach Marcelino takes charge of the team for the first time in Saturday's home match against Sevilla. Indian tycoon Ahsan Ali Sayed, who took over as majority shareholder in January, got rid of coach Miguel Angel Portugal on Monday with the club fifth from bottom and Marcelino, who was sacked by Real Zaragoza in December, returns for his second spell at Racing. "I know the city, the people in the club and the possibilities we have to achieve our goals," said Marcelino.
Sevilla are a massive 13 points off the top four and need a winning run to stand any chance of getting in the Champions League for next season.
In other matches, promoted Levante host Almeria on Sunday in a relegation six-pointer. Second from bottom Almeria are one point behind Levante who surprised everyone last weekend by becoming the first team to win at Villarreal with a 1-0 victory. Third-placed Villarreal aim to bounce back from that setback with victory over Deportivo La Coruna at the Riazor stadium on Sunday.