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La Liga Weekend Preview: Barcelona aim to hold off Atleti and Real

Barcelona recovered top spot in La Liga just one week after being knocked off their perch for the first time in 59 league games last weekend as they took advantage of Atletico Madrid’s shock defeat to Almeria.

Victories for Barcelona away to Sevilla and Real Madrid at home to Villarreal mean both sides are now level with Atletico in a three-way tie at the top on 57 points.

The Catalans lead thanks to a superior goal difference and will fancy themselves to rack up a few goals when relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano visit the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Rayo’s visit comes in the midst of a big week for Barcelona as they sealed their place in the Copa del Rey final against Real Sociedad on Wednesday and will travel to face Manchester City in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday.

Brazilian forward Neymar is expected to get some playing time on Saturday to improve his match fitness ahead of the City game having been out for three weeks due to a sprained ankle.

Martino could also be tempted to rest a few of his star names with the trip to the Etihad in mind having played a full-strength side at Anoeta in midweek.

Atletico are the first of the three title contenders in action as they host Valladolid earlier on Saturday.

A 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the Cup on Tuesday made it three consecutive defeats for Diego Simeone’s men, having previously lost just twice in 36 games this season.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, will once again be without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo when they travel across the Spanish capital to take on Getafe on Sunday.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side are in fine form having won 13 of their last 14 games in all competitions and will be heavy favourites for another three points against a Getafe side that hasn’t won since November.

Other than Ronaldo and long-term injury absentee Sami Khedira, Ancelotti has a full squad to choose from so Gareth Bale is likely to continue in attack alongside Karim Benzema and Jese Rodriguez.

Spanish La Liga fixtures
Elche v Osasuna

Atletico Madrid v Valladolid
Levante v Almeria
Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano
Villarreal v Celta Vigo

Granada v Real Betis
Getafe v Real Madrid
Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol
Sevilla v Valencia

Malaga v Real Sociedad