Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona host Valencia on Sunday desperately in need of a win to arrest a slide of three defeats in four games and prevent losing their grip on the La Liga title race.
The Catalans still lead Atletico Madrid by three points with six games remaining, but were dumped out of the Champions League by Atletico on Wednesday as their quest to deliver a second consecutive treble was killed off.
“It is clear we are not in our best moment of the season,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique.
“In the world of football perfect seasons don’t exist.
“We need to keep going in the two competitions we have still in play.”
Barca in particular need a reaction from their star front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have gone off the boil at the business end of the season.
Messi hasn’t netted for five games, whilst Neymar has also failed to score from open play as Barca have won just once in their last five matches.
“We need to lift ourselves because we still have two very attractive goals to obtain,” added Barca coach Luis Enrique.
However, Barca’s only change from the 11 that started at the Calderon in midweek is likely to come in goal where Claudio Bravo will replace Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Valencia can also approach the game in a much more relaxed state after Alvaro Negredo’s last minute winner against Sevilla last time out moved them nine points clear of the relegation zone in Pako Ayestaran’s first home game in charge since replacing the sacked Gary Neville.
The visitors also have revenge in mind having been thrashed 7-0 on their last visit to the Camp Nou during Neville’s reign in February.
“Barcelona aren’t the same as when we played against them and, with our strengths, we will try to get a good result,” said defender Jose Luis Gaya.
– Favourable run-in –
Atletico could even draw level with Barca at the top of the table before kick-off at the Camp Nou as they host relegation threatened Granada at the Vicente Calderon.
Diego Simeone’s men have the most favourable run-in with four of their remaining six games at home.
However, they still need Barca to drop points in at least two games due to their inferior head-to-head record with the Catalans.
Fernando Torres will return to the Atletico line-up after being suspended for the Barcelona return leg after scoring in each of his last three appearances.
Real Madrid also booked their place in the last four of the Champions League in midweek thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit against Wolfsburg.
And Zinedine Zidane’s men can close to within one point of Barcelona when they travel across the Spanish capital to face struggling Getafe.
Former Argentine international Juan Eduardo Esnaider will take charge of Getafe for the first time as Fran Escriba was sacked on Tuesday after a 12-game winless run saw Los Azulones drop into the relegation zone.
“The Real Madrid game is fundamental for us. They will arrive here euphoric fancying their chances in La Liga and the Champions League, but I want to take the game to them,” said Esnaider.
At the bottom, Levante realistically have to beat Espanyol on Friday if they are to have any chance of beating the drop.
Meanwhile, with Getafe and Granada facing the two Madrid giants and Rayo Vallecano hosting high-fyling Villarreal, Sporting Gijon could climb out of the relegation zone with victory at Las Palmas.
Friday (all times GMT)
Levante v Espanyol (1830)
Getafe v Real Madrid (1400), Las Palmas v Sporting Gijon (1615), Eibar v Real Sociedad (1830), Celta Vigo v Real Betis (2005)
Malaga v Athletic Bilbao (1000), Sevilla v Deportivo la Coruna (1400), Rayo Vallecano v Villarreal, Atletico Madrid v Granada (both 1615) Barcelona v Valencia (1830)