Barcelona can take a huge step towards sealing a fifth La Liga title in seven years when they visit local rivals Espanyol in the Catalan derby on Saturday.
Luis Enrique’s men remain on course for just the second treble in the club’s storied history after easing past Paris Saint-Germain 5-1 on aggregate to reach the Champions League semi-finals in midweek.
Barca lead Real Madrid by two points at the top of the table with six games remaining and their trip to the Power8 Stadium this weekend along with a visit to Atletico Madrid on the penultimate day of the season appear to be the only matches where Luis Enrique’s men should be in danger of dropping points.
“I hope that the best is still to come,” said the coach.
“That is why the players have worked since the start of the season to fight for titles.”
However, there is never any love lost for Barca when they travel across the Catalan capital and Espanyol ‘keeper Kiko Casilla wants to reward their long-suffering fans with a first derby win since 2009.
“We are desperate to play well. We know there will be a good crowd and we want to show what we can do,” he said.
“We are in a city where the blue and white colours are seen less often, but the fans are proud of this team and we want to show that.
“A derby is different to the rest of the games. To face (Lionel) Messi, (Luis) Suarez, Neymar, Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, it motivates you more. We don’t have fear of anyone, but great respect for those players because any of them can cause you problems.”
Barca will be at full strength as Luis Enrique was able to give a rest to the likes of Iniesta, Suarez and Sergio Busquets in the second half against PSG with the tie comfortably won.
Real Madrid had a much tougher time against Atletico Madrid to reach the last four as Javier Hernandez’s 88th-minute winner was the only goal of the tie.
Los Blancos also have a much tougher run in than the league leaders starting with a trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday.
– Fatigued –
Celta mathematically ended Madrid’s title challenge with a 2-0 win in the penultimate game of last season and will fancy their chances once more against the depleted and fatigued European champions.
Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema all miss out through injury, but Marcelo will be free to take his place at left-back after missing the Atletico game through suspension.
Atletico, meanwhile, will seek to bounce back from their Champions League exit by ensuring their presence in the competition next season when Elche visit the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s men hold a four-point lead over Valencia in third place with Sevilla a further two points back in the battle for the two remaining Champions League places up for grabs.
“The club is strengthened by once again being among the top eight teams in Europe. Bit by bit we are competing at the top level,” said Simeone.
“The objective is as it always was, to finish third which is what the club needs for next season.”
Sevilla host Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, while Valencia aren’t in action until Monday when they host Granada.
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Cordoba v Athletic Bilbao (1845)
Espanyol v Barcelona (1400), Atletico Madrid v Elche (1600), Getafe v Levante (1800), Real Sociedad v Villarreal (2000)
Malaga v Deportivo la Coruna (1000), Almeria v Eibar (1500), Sevilla v Rayo Vallecano (1700), Celta Vigo v Real Madrid (1900)
Valencia v Granada (1845)
– Agence France-Presse