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La Liga title challengers favourites to win this weekend

The race for the La Liga title will probably not see too many changes this coming weekend as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all face rivals they will expect to beat.

barcelona
Lionel Messi and co. prepare for their tie against Malaga

Madrid, Feb 20 (IANS) The race for the La Liga title will probably not see too many changes this coming weekend as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all face rivals they will expect to beat.

Barcelona will set the ball rolling when they face Malaga Saturday afternoon. Malaga were one of the surprises of the first half of the season. But the side coached by Xavi Gracia appears to have run out of steam in recent weeks, reports Xinhua.

It looks set to spend the rest of the campaign in limbo between the battle for a place in Europe and the dogfight to avoid relegation.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique knows his side has to keep the pressure on Real and that a win Saturday will see them leapfrog its rival into first place for 24 hours at least.

But Barcelona face a tough Champions League trip to play Manchester City next week and he may make some changes to his starting 11, with perhaps Neymar starting on the bench.

Atletico Madrid entertain Almeria, who are battling against relegation and Diego Simeone will want to see an improvement over last weekend's display which saw Atletico surrender so tamely away to Celta Vigo.

The probable absence of Tiago and Koke in central midfield limits Atletico's options. But Simeone will probably opt to play an extra midfielder, while Fernando Torres drops down to the bench.

Almeria have improved drastically following the arrival of Juan Ignacio Martinez as coach. They may prove to be a tougher rival than many expect, especially as Atletico are also in Champions League action next week.

Should Barcelona defeat Malaga, Real will kick off in Elche needing a win in order to return to the top of the table. Elche took a surprise win in SD Eibar Monday night, but should be relatively easy game for Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid are currently leading the title race

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a vital goal away against FC Schalke 04 Wednesday and should have regained some confidence from that, while the return of Pepe gives a more solid look to the Real defence.

Fourth-placed Valencia CF will look to take all three points from a Cordoba CF side led by former Valencia coach Miroslav Djukic. Cordoba had improved following Djukic's arrival, but recent setbacks have seen them slip back to the bottom of the table.

Saturday ends with an always competitive Galician derby between Deportivo la Coruna and Celta Vigo before Sunday kicks off with an attractive match between Real Sociedad and Sevilla FC.

Sociedad need points to climb away from the danger zone, while fifth-placed Sevilla, who played Europa League Thursday, probably won't be pleased with the early kick off time.

Athletic Club Bilbao, another side playing in the Europa League, need to rediscover their home form against Rayo Vallecano, who ended a poor run with a vital win against Villarreal last weekend.

Villarreal will look to bounce back at home against Eibar who have lost their last four games, while the round of games ends Monday with a relegation battle between Levante UD and Granada CF.

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