La Liga: Real Madrid need to keep nerves as Barcelona, Atletico seek to close in
Madrid, Feb 12 (IANS) FC Barcelona have the chance to pile the pressure on La Liga leaders Real Madrid this weekend.
Last weekend saw Real Madrid suffer a 0-4 humiliation away to local rivals Atletico Madrid. Barcelona beat Athletic Club Bilbao 5-2 to be just one point short of Real's 54. Atletico need a slip-up from one of the big two as they have 50 points, reports Xinhua.
Real kick off the weekend in the title race Saturday afternoon after Sevilla open the weekend's affairs with a derby against struggling neighbors Cordoba.
Real are at home to Deportivo la Coruna, whose form has improved drastically of late and who will face a Real side hit by injuries with Luka Modric, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira all injured.
That will mean Rafael Varene and Nacho Fernandez playing again in the central defence, although the side will be boosted by the return of Marcelo after injury.
There is also the chance of a change in goal after Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti tried Keylor Navas in a couple of midweek training sessions ahead of Iker Casillas, who was not at his best a week ago.
Saturday's other games see a relegation battle between Granada and Bilbao, who will hope they are not too affected by the efforts of the King's Cup semifinal Wednesday night. Espanyol will travel to face a Malaga side that appears to have run out of stream after a good first half to the campaign.
Sunday begins with Valencia looking to cement their place in fourth at home to Getafe, who are led by former Valencia coach Quique Sanchez Flores. Getafe have picked up slightly under Quique, but Valencia will be favourites with Alvaro Negredo likely to lead their attack.
Barcelona take on Levante, who lifted themselves off the bottom of the table with a shock 4-1 win over Malaga last week. But the visit to the Camp Nou will be different.
Barcelona are arguably in their best form of the season as coach Luis Enrique seems to have found the formula for success. He has reduced the squad rotations and placed his faith in the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
The trio have built up a formidable understanding and with the midfield also working like clockwork, Barcelona are starting to resemble the unbeatable team they were under Pep Guardiola at just the right time.
Rayo Vallecano receive Villarreal, who will be without captain Bruno Soriano for two months after he broke his foot in midweek. Atletico also stake their title claim with what could be a difficult trip to Celta's Balaidos Stadium.
Celta have struggled for form and goals, but have the talent to trouble Atletico, who need to keep focus after last weekend's triumph. Coach Diego Simeone will no doubt have drilled that lesson into his players.