Madrid: 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 Barca 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 Barca 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 Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday.
Gerardo Martino’s men’s performances against Sevilla and Sociedad also suggested they are finding their form at just the right time of the season, and defender Gerard Pique said they can’t afford any slip ups with so many important games on the horizon.
“I don’t know if we’re back in our stride, but we certainly put in a good performance against a good team,” he said after the Sociedad game.
“Now we’re coming into the most exciting part of the season, we have three months ahead of us in which we’re alive in all three competitions.
“We have to keep up this level in every game because every match that we have left is a Cup final and at this stage of the season there is no room for error.”
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.
The Argentine has admitted that tiredness may be beginning to affect his stretched squad and continued to play down any expectations they can last the pace with Madrid and Barcelona until the end of the campaign.
“I am not worried by the defeats, eight days ago we were top of the league,” he told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.
“All teams, sooner or later, will go through a bad moment. We will have to see how we respond to this. If one looks at a league of 38 games, it is impossible to think that we could compete with Real Madrid or Barcelona. They have the quality that makes the difference in the long run.”
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.