Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has warned his squad they must not lose when they host struggling Almeria on Saturday.Guardiola’s side top La Liga by eight points as they prepare to face the division’s bottom club, but need a victory to maintain their healthy gap on rivals Real Madrid prior to the two sides meeting in another ‘El Clasico’.
Real’s surprise 1-0 home defeat to Sporting Gijon last week saw Barca kick further away after they won at Villarreal and Guardiola is insistent his side enter the derby with their eight-point gap still intact.
“We can lose at the Bernabeu in the league, we can lose against Espanyol at home, but there is one game we cannot lose: the one against Almeria,” Guardiola said.
“We have to go to the Bernabeu with an eight-point advantage, not six or five. They (Madrid) have a great team, and it’s normal that they could beat us in the league and cup. It could happen, but not against Almeria. We can’t lose this game.”
Any chance of a slip-up from the league leaders is unlikely, given the fact they thumped Almeria 8-0 back in November thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick.
Real will not have it easy when they travel to fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao, in one of three Saturday fixtures.
Jose Mourinho’s side responded well to their shock defeat at the weekend with a 4-0 first-leg quarter-final hammering of Tottenham on Tuesday, which has virtually assured themselves a place in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Forward Karim Benzema is expected to return for Real in the match, but despite the French striker’s addition, Mourinho will be wary of a Bilbao side who have impressed this season.
Another fascinating fixture sees Valencia host rivals Villarreal at the Mestalla in a match which will go a long way to determining who finishes third in the league and books an automatic UEFA Champions League place.
Roberto Soldado fired four goals in Valencia’s 4-2 win over Getafe last weekend which sees Unai Emery’s side three points clear in third, but an away win for Villarreal would draw them level with their rivals.
Other matches this weekend see Mallorca host a resurgent Sevilla in the other Saturday match while on Sunday, Atletico Madrid face Real Sociedad, who are horribly out of form, having claimed just one draw in their last seven fixtures.
Sporting Gijon will be buoyed after their brilliant win at the Santiago Bernabeu and keen to continue the good form when they host Osasuna, while Levante travel to Racing Santander in a battle of two mid-table sides.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Espanyol have struggled lately but will fancy their chances of bouncing back at third-from-bottom Hercules and Malaga are at home to Deportivo La Coruna, while on Monday evening, Real Zaragoza complete the round when they host Getafe.