La Liga Preview: Barca, Real, Atleti continue title battle
By Football News
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will all be vying to make top spot in La Liga their own over the course of the weekend.
All three teams go into their matches on 57 points from 23 games, with only goal difference separating their identical records of 18 wins, three draws and two defeats each.
Champions Barca sit top, and they face what should be a straightforward home match against second-bottom Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
The two sides have only met five times since 2003, but the Catalans have won every one of those encounters while racking up 23 goals in the process.
Rayo, meanwhile, have managed just one goal in those matches - in a 3-1 defeat at Camp Nou last season - and Barca won the reverse fixture this term 4-0, thanks in the main to a hat-trick from Pedro.
Gerardo Martino will be able to call upon Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba this weekend after the duo were suspended for the 4-1 victory at Sevilla last Sunday, but the Barca coach may opt to rest several key players with next Tuesday's UEFA Champions League last-16 first leg at Manchester City in mind.
Second-placed Real Madrid, meanwhile, make the short trip across the capital to Getafe - where they lost last season - on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti's side go into the match on the back of a 24-match unbeaten run in all competitions, and Barca remain the only team they have lost to away from home this season.
By contrast, Getafe have failed to win any of their last eight in the league and sit just four points above the drop zone, although they will be buoyed slightly by the absence of the division's top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who is banned.
Atleti welcome Real Valladolid to Vicente Calderon on Sunday looking to put consecutive defeats behind them.
Diego Simeone's team had gone 23 games without defeat in all competitions until last week, but have since lost both Copa del Rey semi-final legs to Real Madrid, while also falling to a shock 2-0 Liga reverse at Almeria last Saturday.
However, form and logic suggests they will get back on track this weekend, as Valladolid have won just one of their last seven Liga outings and sit in 18th place.
In the battle to finish fourth, Athletic Bilbao entertain Espanyol on Sunday as they look to extend their four-point lead over fifth-placed Villarreal, who host mid-table Celta Vigo.
A win for sixth-placed Real Sociedad at Malaga on Monday could potentially see Jagoba Arrasate's men open up a healthy advantage on both Sevilla and Valencia, who play each other at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Sunday's late kick-off.
Elsewhere, bottom-of-the-league Real Betis travel to Granada for an Andalucian derby, while the region's other representatives - Almeria and Elche - face Levante and Osasuna, respectively.