La Liga Week 26 Preview: Barca look to close gap at top without Messi on crucial weekend for bottom clubs


It’s another big weekend for the relegation candidates of Spain’s top league as well as those vying for European spots. Racing Santander and Sporting Gijon both have difficult fixtures whilst Real Zaragoza and Villarreal meet in a match which could prove crucial in their fight for survival. Meanwhile, Sevilla look to show their determination to enter the chase for European football and Athletic Bilbao attempt to maintain the pressure on fourth placed Levante.

Sporting Gijon travel to Catalonia to face Barcelona on Saturday, a side they haven’t beaten since 1994. Javier Clemente’s team will feel more confident heading into this match as the Spanish, European and World champions are without Lionel Mess due to suspension whilst Eric Abidal and Thiago Alcantara both returned from international duty with injuries. The Frenchman is expected to be out for around 10 days whilst Thiago should return in a few days.

Blaugrana winger Pedro believes his side cannot afford to underestimate the club ranked second bottom of the league, insisting they always pose a threat.

He told the club’s official website: “It has never been easy against Sporting. They always prove they have a great team when they play against us. Clemente likes to be aggressive and he makes his teams reduce the space between the lines [defence to midfield, midfield to attack]. I’m sure it will be difficult.”

Third bottom Racing Santander would kill to pick up some victories in the Spanish league. The Verdiblancos have drawn four of their last five league matches but are just three points from safety. Juanjo Gonzalez’s men meet a Rayo Vallecano side which is in good form this weekend, having won three of their last five matches, falling to just Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid.

Sunday is a day which could effectively seal the fate of Real Zaragoza. The Blanquillos are 12 points behind this weekend’s opponents Villarreal and a defeat for Manolo Jimenez’s men against their fellow relegation contenders would all but confirm their demise into the Segunda.

Real Zaragoza player Abraham Minero acknowledged the gravity of the situation Zaragoza find themselves in. He told Marca: “We’re thinking about the game against Villarreal. We must turn the page with all the mistakes we have made and look forward to the Villarreal match and fight to get the three points, which is most important.”

He added: “We have to take it game by game and go out and fight to the death in each one.”

Meanwhile Villarreal midfielder Borja Valero told the Yellow Submarine’s official website that a victory over Zaragoza “would be a major turning point and a confidence boost” for his side.

Sevilla face another pivotal match of what has been a rather tumultuous campaign. The Rojiblancos have recovered from their eight-game winless streak by winning their last two matches, and Miguel Gonzalez’s side will be looking to assert themselves as genuine contenders for a European place with victory over an Atletico Madrid side which lost its first game under Diego Simeone last weekend.

Espanyol also face a tough match this weekend as they make the trip to the Spanish capital to meet Real Madrid. The Periquitos have not won any of their last four league matches, form they will be anxious to recover from if they are to maintain their campaign for European football next season, whilst Athletic Bilbao will be desperate to try to leapfrog Levante into fourth place by beating Real Sociedad at the San Mames on Sunday.

Saturday

17:00 Mallorca v Osasuna

17:00 Getafe v M

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