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La Liga Weekend Preview: Barca With Chance To Cut Lead At Top

Barcelona have a chance to make up ground La Liga leaders Real Madrid this weekend, but will need to get the better of derby rivals Espanyol.

Real are not involved in domestic action in the latest round of fixtures as they take on Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup final in Japan.

That gives Barca, who trail the capital club by six points, the opportunity to cut the gap heading into the winter break.

They will welcome Espanyol to the Nou Camp on Sunday buoyed by confirmation one of their star men, Luis Suarez, has signed a new contract.

Espanyol, however, will go into the game in good heart themselves, having not been beaten in their last 10 games in all competitions. Quique Sanchez Flores’ side sit ninth in the table following a 2-1 defeat of Sporting Gijon last weekend.

Midfielder David Lopez, who is preparing for his first derby in two years after returning to the club following a stint at Napoli, said: ‘It’s a good time because the team has realised that it is capable of doing great things.

‘We have confidence and morale is high, but we have our feet on the ground and we have to be humble and keep working.’

Lopez believes Espanyol are capable of exploiting vulnerabilities in the Barca side. He told the club’s website:

‘We cannot defend the whole game because they will end up scoring.

‘Barcelona force you to take steps back and we must try to keep them away from our box and take advantage of our opportunities to try to win.’

Barca could actually be third in the table come kick-off on Sunday, should Sevilla get the better of mid-table Malaga.

Jorge Sampaoli’s men got back to winning ways with a 3-0 success at Celta Vigo last weekend and they now want to wrap up their La Liga programme for 2016 in equally positive fashion.

Sampaoli said on www.sevillafc.es: ‘I’m pleasantly surprised. I never imagined being in this position at this point when we started.

‘Now the idea is to finish the year by keeping those points adding up, although we know, of course, the difficulties Malaga can create.’

Malaga’s visit to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is one of four games on Saturday. Fourth-placed Villarreal travel to Sporting Gijon, fifth-placed Real Sociedad are at Granada and sixth-placed Atletico Madrid host Las Palmas.

Atletico are without a win in their last three games in all competitions.

Coach Diego Simeone said:

‘I am only interested in winning. I am only interested in that the team responds emotionally to what we always were and will be. We will focus on playing against a team that plays very well.’

Two other matches on Sunday see Leganes take on Eibar and bottom side Osasuna travel to Deportivo La Coruna.