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La Liga Preview: Title Race Destined To Go Down To Wire

camp-nou-newBarcelona defender Marc Bartra feels the Spanish La Liga leaders are in the right physical and psychological shape for the title run-in. Barça maintained their two-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga in midweek with the much-vaunted forward trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all on target in the 6-0 thrashing of Getafe at the Nou Camp.

Spanish international Bartra was part of a defence which secured a fourth straight shut-out and Barcelona are now only four games from winning a 23rd domestic title. “We worked very hard from a physical standpoint starting in the pre-season,” Bartra said.

“We also worked on the psychological aspect so everyone was ready to step in at any moment. That’s why we’re in such good shape right now. That way we’ve been able to rest players, yet keep everyone active. Scoring six goals is great, but so is not conceding any. Our lines are much tighter, which keeps us on our toes and gives us a better shot at winning.”

Barcelona take their 15-match unbeaten record – 14 wins and a draw – to bottom-placed Cordoba on Saturday afternoon and the Andalusian side will be relegated if they fail to pull off an upset. Cordoba have won only three league matches this season and their last victory came at Rayo Vallecano on 12 January. But Cordoba coach Jose Antonio Romero told the club’s official website said: “We have a lot of respect and consideration for Barcelona but we are not afraid.”

Real Madrid seem to have a far tougher task this weekend than Barcelona at fifth-placed Sevilla. Los Rojiblancos are unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions ahead of Saturday night’s clash at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and have been boosted by pacy winger Vitolo extending his contract by two years. “They are a very strong side at home and have been solid throughout the season,” Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas told the Spanish media.

“They are also fighting for a Champions League place and are through to the semi-finals of the Europa League. We want to make it difficult for Barcelona by picking up three hugely important points in our bid to win La Liga. We need to continue winning and wait for Barcelona to make a mistake. Cordoba, like Sevilla, also have a lot to play for.”

Third-placed Atletico Madrid welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Estadio Vicente Calderon with Diego Simeone’s champions on an unbeaten ten-game league run. Bilbao are currently in eighth place six points short of the final UEFA Europa League place, so need to win to keep their qualification hopes alive.

Deportivo La Coruna have the opportunity to escape the bottom three against their visitors Villarreal, who are without a win in ten games in all competitions. Victory would take Deportivo out of the relegation zone for at least 48 hours as Almeria do not play until Monday night.

Sunday’s games include Espanyol and Rayo Vallecano who were both in action on Thursday. Rayo held fourth-placed Valencia 1-1 and stayed 11th while 10th-placed Espanyol won 2-1 in Andalusia to leave Granada in real relegation peril. Granada are now six points adrift of safety with four games remaining and travel to Getafe having just sacked manager Abel Resino, while the hosts would probably secure safety with victory.

Valencia hold the last Champions League qualifying spot from Sevilla on goal difference and host Eibar, who are two points above the relegation zone. Seventh-placed Malaga hope to take another step towards European football at home to Elche, who are 13th and almost safe, while lowly Almeria entertain mid-table Celta Vigo on Monday.