MADRID, March 17 — The ‘Clasico’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will once again capture most of the headlines in La Liga this weekend in Spain as the two traditional rivals play a match that perhaps is less relevant than other meetings between the two teams.
Real Madrid entertain their traditional rivals with a 10-point cushion over second-placed Sevilla and with a 15-point lead over Barca, who have played a game less. Although at Barcelona, they refuse to rule out a run for the title, the reality is that it would take a disaster for Real Madrid not to win the league.
A win for Barcelona would, however, confirm their improvement since the arrival of Xavi Hernandez as coach and avenge their two defeats against Real Madrid this season. Real Madrid won 2-1 in the Camp Nou in La Liga when Ronald Koeman was still in the Barca dugout and then beat the Catalans 3-2 in the semi-final of the Spanish Supercup in early January.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will be without left-back Ferland Mendy and there is a big doubt over Karim Benzema after the top-scorer suffered a calf strain in their 3-0 win in Mallorca on Monday.
Barca have little time to prepare for the match given they have a Europa League tie away to Galatasaray on Thursday, with the club opting to make an overnight stay in Istanbul to try and avoid tiredness.
The Clasico is the last game on Sunday night and there is plenty more football to be played before then, starting on Friday with Athletic Club Bilbao’s home match against Getafe, which the home side need to win to keep their hopes of playing in Europe alive.
There may not be great football on view, but there will be high drama when second from bottom Alaves entertain fourth from bottom Granada on Saturday lunchtime. Alaves have looked more solid since the arrival of Jose Luis Mendilibar as coach, but need to start winning, while Granada have not won in their last 10 games, taking just three points from a possible 30.
Elche’s win away to Granada last weekend all but ended their relegation worries and Francisco Rodriguez’s side will be confident of taking more points from their home game against Valencia.
Osasuna were very disappointing away to Barcelona last weekend and the side from Pamplona now take on bottom of the table Levante. Levante have improved a lot in recent weeks but are still six points from safety after last weekend’s draw at home to Espanyol.
Atletico Madrid, fresh from their win away to Manchester United in the Champions League, make the short trip to visit Rayo Vallecano whose last league win was against Alaves on December 18th.
Sunday kicks off with Espanyol at home to Mallorca, who go into the match just two points above the relegation zone after a run of five consecutive defeats.
Celta face Betis in what promises to be an open match, although Betis could pay for their Europa League visit to Frankfurt on Thursday and they will be without Nabil Fekir after he was sent off last weekend against Athletic Club Bilbao.
Sevilla and Real Sociedad face off in the Sanchez Pizjuan, with Sevilla needing a win to keep their slim title hopes alive, while Real Sociedad have to look for three points as they battle for another top-six finish. Sevilla are another side whose preparations won’t be helped by Thursday’s Europa League visit to play West Ham. – XINHUA