Title rivals wary of costly slip-up ahead of mouth-watering ‘El Clasico’
MADRID: Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are locked at the top of La Liga, will be desperate for moraleboosting wins this weekend ahead of the mouth-watering ‘El Clasico’.With nine games left champions Barca and leaders Real have 74 points with third-placed Valencia an incredible 21 points behind.
Barcelona are second on goal difference and could be fatigued after their 2-2 Champions League quarterfinal draw at Arsenal on Wednesday.
But they can’t afford to slip up at home to Athletic Bilbao today with the testing trip to Madrid on the horizon.
Real are at Racing Santander tomorrow as they go in search of a 12th consecutive league win.
Barcelona should have beaten Arsenal convincingly at the Emirates in midweek with coach Pep Guardiola saying it was better than any of their European displays last season when they won the trophy.
“If we play like we did in London we will drop very few points and if we want to win titles we always have to go out like we did against Arsenal,” said Barcelona captain Carles Puyol.
“It is a key point in the season and we are up against a tough rival in (Athletic) Bilbao who are having a great season. The league is very competitive and we can’t slip-up.”
Bilbao are in sixth, just two points off the Champions League spots.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is certainly the man to stop for Bilbao with the Swede scoring five goals in his last four games in all competitions.
Barcelona will be without the injured Andres Iniesta as well as Dani Alves who is suspended but available for next weekend’s duel with Real.
Real Madrid have been able to rest up this week due to their Champions League elimination and hope to continue their 11-match winning streak with victory at lowly Racing.
Racing are not out of the woods yet in the relegation battle lying six points above the drop zone.
“We have to focus on ourselves. We know that Racing are still not safe and need the points so it is going to be a difficult game,” said defender Raul Albiol.
“Going forward we have an impressive number of goals (81 goals in 29 games) and that has helped us record this high tally of points.
“Recently we have not been able to keep clean sheets and we hope that we can get back to not conceding goals in the key games.”
Real welcome back French midfielder Lass Diarra from injury but Spanish internationals Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos are suspended.
The match sees Racing starlet Sergio Canales, 19, face his future employers having struck a deal to join Real in the summer for a reported 4.5 million euros. — AFP