Madrid — Barcelona theoretically has only two difficult
games to overcome on its way to securing a second straight Spanish league
title, and they will come right away in consecutive rounds.
The Catalan club plays at fourth-place Villarreal on Sunday
and then hosts third-place Real Madrid in the following round.
If it survives this stretch, Barcelona takes on opponents
that are near the bottom of the standings as it closes in on the title. All of
its final seven opponents are 10th or worse on the table, with some near the
The next two rounds will give Atletico Madrid its last
chance to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has been holding an eight-point
lead for the last six rounds. Real Madrid is 12 points back, virtually out of
While Barcelona plays away against one of the toughest teams
in the league this season, Atletico on Saturday faces struggling Sporting
Gijon, which is second-to-last in the standings. Although the game is in Gijon,
the host has lost four in a row and hasn't won at home in five consecutive
"In the final part of the season many of the bottom
teams start beating the top teams," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
"It's never easy."
Unbeaten in 38 games in all competitions, Barcelona has 75
points from 29 games. It has won 12 straight league games, and on Wednesday
advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 3-1 win over
Arsenal at the Camp Nou.
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Barcelona continues to rely on the attacking power of Lionel
Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, who together have scored 106 goals in all
competitions and remain on course to beat the record of 122 they set last
Each scored a goal in the team's Champions League victory
against Arsenal on Wednesday.
"They help us create pressure and they get back to
defend as well, which every team needs in any competition," Barcelona
coach Luis Enrique said. "Suarez, Messi and Neymar feed off each other. I
am pleased they're our forwards."
Atletico enters the game at Sporting Gijon still savoring
Tuesday's win over PSV Eindhoven in the round of 16 of the Champions League,
when it advanced after a thrilling 8-7 win on penalties following a 0-0 draw in
regulation and extra time.
"We have to think that on Saturday we have a match and
we have to recover after 120 minutes," striker Fernando Torres said.
Diego Simeone's team is keeping its title chances alive in
the Spanish league thanks to its tough defense, just like it did when it won
the competition two seasons ago.
Atletico has conceded only one goal in its last eight games
in all competitions. It has the Spanish league's best defense with only 12
goals conceded in 29 matches.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane may be able to count on
striker Karim Benzema when the team plays fifth-place Sevilla on Sunday at the
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
The French striker has missed several games after injuring a
right leg muscle in the 1-0 home loss to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league
Real Madrid trails Atletico by four points and has a
10-point lead over fourth-place Villarreal, which hosts Barcelona on Saturday.
Sevilla is five points behind Villarreal, still in
contention for a Champions League spot next season.
The fight against relegation is getting tighter near the end
of the Spanish league.
Five teams are within five points of relegation zone, which
currently is occupied by Getafe, Sporting Gijon and Levante.
The gap between last-place Levante and 16th-place Rayo
Vallecano is only three points.
The bottom three in the 20-team standings are demoted to the
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