Barcelona will move six points clear of Real Madrid if they beat Deportivo La Coruna in the Primera Liga at Camp Nou tonight. Still buoyed by their weekend victory over their closest rivals, Barca are protecting an unbeaten home record against the struggling Galicians. Depor were fourth at the start of March, but have lost four and drawn two of their last six games and slipped to ninth.
"We started the season so well," said Andres Guardado, their Mexico international winger and last season's club player of the year. "We were even in contention for fourth position after a very good first half of the season. The people have very happy memories of the Champions League at this club and we hoped that we could return. "We don't have a team of famous names like the old Depor, but we have a good team."
The Galicians' problem is scoring. Their 33 goals from 31 games so far this season is only the 14th best in the league, which Guardado attributes to the small squad. Depor's budget is around half what it was a decade ago when they won the league, and gates have fallen from an average of 32,000 to 18,000. Fast, tricky, weighing in at just 60kgs and standing only 5ft 6ins tall, Guardado expects to represent his country in South Africa. He played well in Depor's 1-1 result in the same fixture last May, but that was against an under-strength Barca who had already won the league and were resting players ahead of the European Cup final.
"Camp Nou is a great stadium to play in," he said, "but we know it's going to be very difficult because Barca are the best team in the world." Aside from their current slump, the Mexican, who harbours ambitions to play in the Premiership, is happy with life on Spain's north-west coast. "We eat very well in La Coruna and the sea food is the best I've tasted, but the weather is not so good and it rains a lot," he said. "I'm happy there though - I prefer European football to the Mexican league."
It seems highly unlikely that Depor, on current form, will finish in a spot to qualify for Europe. With seven league games to play, the race for those places remains fierce. Barca and Real are virtually certain to finish first and second. With Valencia, in third place, enjoying a five-point cushion over Mallorca, and Sevilla in fourth and fifth, the main battle is for fourth and the final Champions League qualification spot.
Mallorca's home victory over Valencia on Sunday maintained their excellent home record of 13 wins from 15 games. They have managed just two victories on the road and travel to Zaragoza tomorrow on a night which also sees Valencia play Athletic Bilbao. The Basques have crept up to sixth and are just a win off the fourth spot. Seventh place Villarreal are the form team, having won their last three matches and lost just once in their last eight. Villarreal have recovered from a dreadful start to the season to rise up the table. They played a key game at eighth place Getafe late last night, with just two points separating the sides.
Atletico Madrid are in 10th, inconsistent as ever, except in the cup competitions. Spanish Cup finalists and Europa League semi-finalists, Atletico have won every other league game since the start of February, but have been unable to record successive victories. A 3-0 loss to Espanyol on Sunday means they are scheduled for a win tonight - and not just because they are at home to bottom-placed Xerez.
@Email:email@example.com Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna, KO midnight, Al Jazeera Sport+2