Madrid (Spain), Mar 16 (IANS): The El Clasico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will again take pride of place in La Liga this weekend, although the last round of matches before the international break is vital at both ends of the league's table.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have already faced each other three times this season, with Real Madrid winning 3-1 in their first La Liga meeting. Barca beat Real by the same score in the Spanish Supercup and won 1-0 in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium at the start of March in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal.
That game saw Xavi Hernandez's side produce an untypically ultra-defensive display without several key players through injury, reports Xinhua.
Robert Lewandowski and Pedri will be back on Sunday, giving Xavi more options than a fortnight ago, although Ousmane Dembele is still sidelined with his muscle problem.
Real Madrid travel to Barcelona after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Champions League with an intense display against Liverpool, but they also travel nine points behind their rivals, knowing that anything other than a win would leave Barca with one hand on the league title.
There is no hiding the fact that the game is played under the cloud of the ongoing 'Negreira case', which has seen criminal investigations opened into the club over payments made to the former vice-president of Spain's referees technical committee. With Real Madrid announcing it has also joined the case against Barcelona and a lot at stake on the pitch, it is not going to be an easy match to officiate.
The weekend kicks off with Valladolid at home to Athletic Club Bilbao, who need to end a run of a draw and three defeats from their last four games. Rayo Vallecano also look to be running out of steam after five games without a win and they entertain a solid Girona in what should be an open match.
Joselu is the threat for Espanyol in their battle to avoid relegation with a home match against an improving Celta Vigo, who have Iago Aspas and Gabri Veiga as their players to watch.
Valencia have dragged themselves out of the bottom three under new coach Ruben Baraja, but they have a difficult trip to play Atletico Madrid. Atletico are benefiting from not playing midweek football, and have six wins and two draws from their last eight league matches, with Antoine Griezmann playing some of the best football of his life.
Sunday sees Betis, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Villarreal all in action after their European commitments on Thursday.
Betis are at home to Mallorca in what should be a tight game against a rival that has only conceded 26 goals all season.
Fourth-placed Real Sociedad entertain bottom side Elche, which should give the Basque side a chance to improve their recent record of just seven points from seven games, while Sevilla have a tense visit to Getafe.
Getafe are third from bottom, but after a run of just one defeat from five games, they are just two points behind Sevilla, with strikers Enes Unal and Borja Mayoral in good form.