BARCELONA: After seeing off their nearest challengers, Barcelona begin the home straight towards a 25th La Liga title away at bottom club Malaga on Saturday.
Barca’s 1-0 win over second-placed Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp last week stretched their lead at the league’s summit to eight points as well as securing a superior head-to-head record over their rivals.
They now need eight wins and a draw from their remaining 11 fixtures to reclaim the title.
Malaga were the last team to beat Barca in the league, delivering the final bullet to their title aspirations in April last year with a 2-0 win in which Brazil’s Neymar was dismissed for the Catalans.
The Andalusian side have undergone vast changes since then, however.
Only six players who started that game remain at the club while coach Michel has also departed. He was sacked in January in a bid to revive the team’s fortunes but his successor Jose Gonzalez has not managed to win a game and has lost six in a row.
They are rock bottom with 13 points, eight adrift of the safety zone and look destined for a return to Spain’s second tier for the first time in a decade.
By contrast, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca side are on an unbeaten run of 34 league games and have Real Sociedad’s Liga record of 38 without defeat in their sights.
They will have one eye, however, on their Champions League last-16 second leg with Chelsea on Wednesday, with the tie finely balanced at 1-1.
They will be without right-back Nelson Semedo and midfielders Denis Suarez and Andres Iniesta, with the latter battling a hamstring problem to be fit in time to play against Chelsea.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone said after the defeat at the Nou Camp that he could not envisage Barca throwing away their lead at the top of the standings, but his side will aim to keep up their faint hopes of staying in the title race when they host Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Champions Real Madrid are 15 points behind Barca and seven back from Atletico but their confidence should be high after sealing their place in the Champions League quarter-finals by seeing off Paris St Germain 5-2 on aggregate.
Zinedine Zidane’s side visits tiny Eibar, who have the smallest ground in the league but have punched above their weight to climb into eighth in the standings, one point outside the European places.