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La Liga preview: Plenty to play for in Spain

Barcelona may have already claimed their third straight La Liga title, but the competition for European places will be on in earnest come Sunday.Barca’s 1-1 draw at Levante on Wednesday was enough to secure Pep Guardiola’s men the title because of their superior head-to-head record against second-placed Real Madrid, and they can celebrate their win at home when they host Deportivo La Coruna.

Real have second spot sewn up but they travel to meet fourth-placed Villarreal who need to claim full points if they are to have any chance of catching Valencia and securing automatic Champions League qualification.

Although Jose Mourinho’s team have little to play for but pride, they still want to finish the season with two more wins.

“The coach has asked us to finish the league by winning our games and we will try to do that,” said star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 36 goals for the season, just two behind the all-time record of 38 set by Athletico Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra in 1951 and Real’s Hugo Sanchez in 1990.

Villarreal are five points behind Valencia and are already guaranteed fourth spot and a place in the qualifiers, which looks like their most likely path to glory with Valencia needing only a point from their home clash with mid-table Levante to be sure of third.

Most of the action centres on the tussle for fifth and sixth place, and the Europa League places that go with them.

Athletic Bilbao are in fifth on 54 points, trailed by Sevilla (52), Atletico Madrid (52) while Espanyol (49) are also still in the mix.

Espanyol travel to Real Zaragoza, who need a win to escape the bottom three, while Bilbao will be looking to rebound from their 2-1 loss at Deportivo on Tuesday.

Atletico have the easiest match of all four Europa League contenders, taking on the already-relegated Hercules at home.

Getafe are just one point outside the drop zone, but will have to beat an Osasuna side who are riding a hot streak of form.

Osasuna have picked up three big wins in succession – posting a 1-0 win over Valencia on May 1 before thrashing Zaragoza 3-1 a week later and then coming from 2-0 down to beat Sevilla on Wednesday.

Sporting Gijon are still an outside chance to go down, and they play host to Racing Santander, while only pride will be on the line when Almeria – who are already relegated – tackle mid-table Mallorca.

Article title: La Liga preview: Plenty to play for in Spain

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