Key matches for Barca and Madrid a week ahead of 'El Clasico' (preview)

Madrid, Mar 9 (IANS): The 25th round of matches in La Liga is vital in the race for the title between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, coming just a week before the two sides play each other in the Camp Nou.

Real Madrid are in action on Saturday lunchtime, with Carlo Ancelotti's men at home to Espanyol. Espanyol have traditionally been easy prey for Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and they travel after defeat last weekend left them just two points above the relegation zone.

Madrid go into the game nine points behind Barca and with the focus on their lack of goals in recent matches after a 0-0 draw away to Betis last week, a 1-0 defeat at home to Barca in the Copa del Rey and a 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid, a Xinhua report said.

Karim Benzema has looked to be below his best, while Vinicius Jr spends too much time arguing with rivals and referees and his level too has dropped - although both will be optimistic of returning to form this weekend.

A win for Madrid would put the pressure on Barcelona in their visit to play Athletic Club Bilbao in the San Mames Stadium.

Xavi Hernandez should have Robert Lewandowski back after injury, while Gavi returns after suspension, but Ousmane Dembele and Pedri are still injured and key defender Ronald Araujo is suspended after his red card against Valencia.

Athletic Club are missing key midfielder Oihan Sancet after his harsh red card against Rayo, while Unai Simon and Inigo Lekue are both injured for a game the Basque side need to win to remain in the race to qualify for Europe.

The weekend gets under way on Friday with Cadiz at home to Getafe in what should be a tight game at the wrong end of the table. Three wins and two draws at home since the turn of the year have lifted Cadiz to 16th, just a place above their rivals.

Saturday sees bottom of the table Elche at home to Valladolid, who like Espanyol are just two points clear of the bottom three, while an improving Celta Vigo entertain Rayo Vallecano, who have dropped to seventh in the table after failing to win any of their last four matches.

Saturday ends with high drama in Valencia, as the second from bottom side entertain Osasuna. Valencia look to have improved since the arrival of Ruben Baraja as coach, but are still two points from safety and are still without several key players, such as Edinson Cavani and Gabriel Paulista, although the return of Nico Gonzalez and Jose Luis Gaya should help their cause.

On Sunday, Real Sociedad take their stuttering form of just one win in six games, to visit a Mallorca side whose run of home wins was ended by Elche last weekend.

Sevilla and Almeria play a vital match for both sides must win, with Almeria slipping into the bottom three after four defeats from five games, while Sevilla suffered a dreadful 6-1 thrashing away to Atletico Madrid last week and are level on points with Sunday's rivals.

Villarreal take on Betis in a match between the sides 6th and 5th in LaLiga, who are both in European action on Thursday, while the round of matches ends on Monday as Atletico Madrid travel to play a lively Girona side that has scored 11 goals in their last three matches.



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Title: Key matches for Barca and Madrid a week ahead of 'El Clasico' (preview)

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