x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Barcelona look to extend lead over absent Real Madrid ahead of Clasico: Primera Liga talking points

Reigning champions are away at the Fifa Club World Cup and their great rivals can build an 11-point lead at the top of the table with victory over Deportivo.

Lionel Messi and Barcelona take on Deportivo La Coruna in the Primera Liga on Sunday. Fotopress / Getty Images
Lionel Messi and Barcelona take on Deportivo La Coruna in the Primera Liga on Sunday. Fotopress / Getty Images

Real Madrid's Fifa Club World Cup commitments mean Barcelona, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have a chance to put even more distance between themselves and the reigning Primera Liga champions this weekend.

Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad face off at San Mames, while newly promoted Girona and Getafe have the chance to move into the top six.

Barca's big pre-Clasico chance

If they dispose of Deportivo La Coruna at the Camp Nou on Sunday, Barca will take a commanding 11-point lead over Madrid.

Next weekend, Barca travel to the Santiago Bernabeu as the Catalans and Real Madrid end their year with El Clasico.

Even with a game in hand to come, Madrid have never overcome such a deficit to win the league and to remain in the title race would realistically need to inflict Barca's first defeat since they last visited the Bernabeu back in August to win the Spanish Super Cup.

Suarez back in business

Barcelona forward Luis Suarez, left. Jose Jordan / AFP
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez, left. Jose Jordan / AFP

Further aiding Barca's bid to regain the title is Luis Suarez's return to form after a poor start to the season.

Suarez struggled for both form and fitness after rushing back from a knee injury suffered as Barca fell to Madrid in the Super Cup.

However, the Uruguayan has scored in his last two outings, against Celta Vigo and Villarreal, with the latter strike in particular displaying the touch and speed of movement of Suarez at his best.

Deportivo also tend to bring the best out of the former Liverpool striker. He has netted six times in his last three meetings against the Galicians.

Bleak times in the Basque country

Athletic Bilbao midfielder Raul Garcia. Kai Foersterling / EPA
Athletic Bilbao midfielder Raul Garcia. Kai Foersterling / EPA

Athletic and Sociedad are both in need of some festive cheer in the midst of hugely disappointing campaigns so far only propped up by progress to the last 32 of the Europa League.

Both sides have just two league wins each since mid-September and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by third tier opposition in Formentera and Lleida Esportiu.

However, with just six points separating sixth from 17th in the table, European ambitions for next season are still a realistic goal for both clubs if squads boasting the talents of Spain internationals Kepa Arrizabalaga, Inaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz, Asier Illarramendi and Alvaro Odriozola start playing to their potential.

From second tier to top six

Girona. Quique Garcia / EPA
Girona. Quique Garcia / EPA

With Girona hosting Getafe before Villarreal's trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday, a win for either side will take them into the top six, for a few hours at least, despite having two of the five smallest budgets in the division.

"Money isn't everything, with humility Girona are competing very well," Girona manager Pablo Machin said after Monday's 1-0 win at Espanyol.

In their first ever season in the top flight, Girona's tiny budget on paper is aided by Manchester City's part ownership of the Catalans with five players on loan from the Premier League leaders.

After bouncing straight back after relegation, Getafe have learned from mistakes made during their 12-year stay in La Liga between 2004 and 2016 with crowds up at the Alfonso Perez Coliseum and Jose Bordalas building a side that caused even Barca and Madrid problems and inflicted Valencia's only defeat of the season.

Alaves threaten Atletico charge

Alaves manager Abelardo Fernandez. Robin Townsend / EPA
Alaves manager Abelardo Fernandez. Robin Townsend / EPA

End 2017 strongly and Atletico could be very much in the title race come the new year with nearly €100 million (Dh433m) of talent in Diego Costa and Vitolo finally freed up to play from January.

Victory over Alaves in their final home game of the year on Saturday will see Diego Simeone's men sit just three points off the top and open up a five-point lead over city rivals Real.

However, despite still languishing in the relegation zone, Alaves pose a more potent threat with Abelardo Fernandez in charge. He has masterminded two wins from two since being named their third manager of the season.

FIXTURES

All kick-off times UAE (+4 GMT)

Friday
Sevilla v Levante (midnight)

Saturday
Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad (7.15pm)
Eibar v Valencia (9.30pm)
Atletico Madrid v Alaves (11.45pm)

Sunday
Girona v Getafe (3pm)
Celta Vigo v Villarreal (7.15pm)
Las Palmas v Espanyol (9.30pm)
Barcelona v Deportivo la Coruna (11.45pm)

Monday
Malaga v Real Betis (midnight)