Barca rejuvenated for title run-in
Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid resume a nail-biting La Liga title race on Saturday after all notched up victories on Wednesday. Leaders Barcelona, who ended a four-game winless streak by hammering Deportivo La Coruna 8-0 away from home, host struggling Sporting Gijon on Saturday.
Atletico battled to a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao to stay level on 79 points with Barcelona, who top the table with a superior head-to-head record and host Malaga. Real stayed one point behind their title rivals after beating Villarreal 3-0 and are expected to be without top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo for their visit to struggling neighbours Rayo Vallecano.
The Portuguese forward was unable to finish the game against Villarreal after suffering cramp in stoppage time but eased concerns he had suffered a serious injury.
“All ok, thanks for the support,” Ronaldo said on Instagram.
Real, however, are expected to rest Ronaldo for the first time this season in the league in preparation for Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg at Manchester City.
Gareth Bale could return after missing the Villarreal game but defensive midfielder Casemiro is suspended. Barcelona defender Marc Bartra, who scored against Deportivo with a surging run into the box, said the thrashing would lift his team for the run-in.
“This came at the ideal moment because the teams behind us were closing in on us, so this convincing victory is not just three points, but also a statement of intent,” he said.
Barcelona have lost their last two league games at the Nou Camp and face a Sporting side fighting to avoid relegation. They welcome back central defender Gerard Pique from suspension. Barca coach Luis Enrique began his career at Sporting, who came from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1 on Wednesday and climb out of the bottom three.
Real’s opponents Rayo Vallecano drew 1-1 with Malaga and are five points above the relegation zone. Real have won all nine games against Rayo since their neighbours returned to the top flight in 2011, thrashing them 10-2 in December with Bale scoring four times.
Atletico are boosted by the return of captain Gabi against Malaga, but will be missing centre back Diego Godin, who injured his hamstring against Bilbao.