Barcelona needs to avoid another slip against Valencia
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona needs to avoid a repeat of its slip against Valencia last season to protect its lead of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Barcelona enters the match at Camp Nou strengthened by its 3-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain, with two spectacular goals from Luis Suarez, in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
Real Madrid trails Barcelona by two points in the league and will host Malaga on Saturday.
But while Barcelona closes in on the semifinals of the European Cup, Madrid will need to muster a strong performance next week if it hopes to finally beat Atletico Madrid after the crosstown rivals drew 0-0 in the opening leg.
Atletico also plays on Saturday, with the defending champions nine points adrift in third place before visiting Deportivo La Coruna.
Here are some more things to know about this weekend’s matches:
Suarez received a good part of the blame for Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at Sevilla last week when the Uruguay forward missed his chances to add to his team’s 2-0 lead, letting Madrid close the gap.
Suarez bounced back on Wednesday with two audacious goals that both included passing the ball between the legs of PSG defender David Luiz en route to clinical finishes.
“That was the last trick I had in the bag,” Suarez said.
Suarez has netted 11 goals in his last 11 games, including two in a 2-1 win at Manchester City and one against Madrid. Following his slow start after returning from a four-month ban for biting an opponent at the World Cup, Suarez has 18 goals in 33 games for the Catalan club.
Suarez and strike partners Lionel Messi and Neymar will now take aim at a Valencia side that has not lost in 10 straight matches.
VALENCIA ON RISE
Barcelona will be particularly wary of Valencia’s visit after a more mediocre version of the same side fought back for a 3-2 victory at Camp Nou last season.
That loss on Feb. 1, 2014, marked the beginning of Barcelona’s slide and allowed Atletico to take over the league lead.
Valencia has a much better, and deeper, squad this season. Coach Nuno Espirito Santo has the team in fourth place, only one point behind Atletico and three points ahead of Sevilla as they vie for a top-four finish.
Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta is doubtful after he was carried off the field in Paris.
Valencia will likely be missing injured Argentines Enzo Perez and Pablo Piatti, but left back Jose Gaya is fit.
“Barcelona is the clear favorite because it is playing at home,” Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves said. “But we will try to play a good game and challenge for the win.”
ONE EYE ON DERBY
Madrid and Atletico will have to be careful not to get caught looking ahead to Wednesday, when the Santiago Bernabeu will decide which moves one step from reaching a second straight Champions League final.
Their draw earlier this week took Atletico’s unbeaten run against Madrid this season to seven games since Madrid won last year’s European title.
Madrid next faces seventh-place Malaga, a team that has beaten Barcelona 1-0 on the road and drawn 0-0 at home.
Since losing at Barcelona, Madrid has routed its next three league opponents 14-1. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored seven times in that stretch to take his league-leading tally to 38.
Atletico’s hopes of repeating as champion are all but gone, but it still must stay ahead of Valencia and Sevilla to keep its place in the Champions League next season.
Emotions will run high at Riazor Stadium when Atletico visits Deportivo. The first meeting on Nov. 30 was overshadowed by the death of a Deportivo fan after rival hooligan groups clashed in a massive street brawl in the capital.
Sevilla visits Granada on Sunday.