Barça eager to bounce back
Barcelona have the perfect opportunity to bounce back from their Copa del Rey disappointment at the hands of bitter rivals Real Madrid this weekend by taking a giant step towards retaining their Primera Division title.
Barça's hopes of winning a second treble in three seasons came to an end in Valencia last night after they lost 1-0 to Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey, but Pep Guardiola`s men are overwhelming favourites in the race for the league crown. They are currently eight points clear of second-placed Madrid with only six games remaining, and that gap is essentially nine points as they boast the better head-to-head record having followed up their 5-0 win at the Nou Camp with a 1-1 draw against Jose Mourinho's men at the Bernabeu last Saturday.
The Catalan giants will also fancy their chances of increasing that gap further still this weekend, as while they host a 16th-placed Osasuna side that have lost their last three games. Madrid must return to the Mestalla - the scene of their cup success -to take on third-placed Valencia.
Barça striker David Villa, whose side face Madrid twice more in the coming weeks for a place in the UEFA Champions League final, said after the cup final: "Now we`re very annoyed, but there's still a lot to play for, we have to clinch the league and think about the Champions League, where we have the chance to get to the final. There are some very nice things left ahead of us." Midfielder Xavi added: "This is sport and you need to continue forward. The two competitions that remain are the most important."
Madrid kept alive their slim hopes of winning the league thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's late penalty equaliser against Barça last time out, but they face another stern test again when they take on in-form Valencia. On-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who helped Madrid end a three-year barren spell without a trophy with last night's cup triumph, said on his club's website: "This is the decisive point of the season. We will be very focused and determined following this win."
Although the top four teams look relatively secure in their positions - Madrid are 14 points clear of Valencia, who are six points in front of fourth-placed Villarreal, who themselves are nine points clear of fifth place - things are not so clear-cut in the rest of the division. In the fight for the two UEFA Europa League spots, there are just three points separating Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Espanyol - all of whom face potentially tricky games this weekend.
Fifth-placed Athletic, having claimed a last-gasp 2-1 win over neighbours Osasuna last weekend, face a second successive local derby as they host Real Sociedad. Atletico take on in-form Levante, who have climbed up to ninth spot after winning eight of their last 12 matches, losing only once, while seventh-placed Sevilla are at home to Villarreal. Espanyol, who are now just three points ahead of Levante in eighth, are away to Sporting Gijon.
At the other end of the table, rock-bottom Almeria go to 17th-placed Real Zaragoza on Monday night knowing a defeat will leave them at least nine points adrift of safety and staring at almost certain relegation.
In this weekend's other matches, second-bottom Hercules take on Deportivo La Coruna, Racing Santander host third-bottom Malaga and Real Mallorca face Getafe.