Minnows Eibar next on rampant Barca's radar


Madrid (AFP)

European champions Barcelona can take another step closer to a sixth La Liga title in eight years when they travel to the humble surroundings of Eibar's 6,000 capacity Ipurua on Sunday.

Barca are on a record 35-game unbeaten streak stretching back to October to put them well on course to repeat the treble of league, Cup and Champions League they won last season.

The Catalans hold an eight-point lead over Atletico Madrid with eternal rivals Real Madrid a further four points back in third with just 11 games of the league season to go.

Despite Barca's incredible run, they had been far from their best in recent weeks until Lionel Messi scored his 35th hat-trick for the club in a 5-1 rout of nine-man Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.

"The league isn't finished, there are still plenty of points to play for," warned captain Andres Iniesta.

However, coach Luis Enrique admitted he was relishing the business end of the season.

"We are approaching the final third of the season and the most beautiful part is still to come."

Barca will be shorn of one of their star attacking triumvirate in the Basque country as Neymar is suspended.

But with a first free midweek since December to come, Enrique is unlikely to waver too much from his strongest side with full-backs Jordi Alba and Dani Alves set to return.

Eibar have punched well above their weight in just their second ever season in the top-flight to sit eighth in the table.

However, they have lost six of their last seven games.

"We are having a significantly poorer second-half of the season than the first, but I am sure we will turn it around," coach Jose Luis Mendilibar said after a 1-0 defeat at Sevilla on Wednesday.

Real Madrid's realistic title hopes are all but over, but Zinedine Zidane's men will be keen to make amends for defeat to Atletico in the Madrid derby last weekend when they host Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Cristiano Ronaldo eased the backlash against his comments after the derby pinning the blame on his teammates for Madrid's poor season to date with a goal and an assist in Real's 3-1 win at Levante in midweek.

And Zidane should have a far stronger squad to choose from for the visit of high-flying Celta as captain Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal return from suspension, whilst Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Marcelo are in contention after varying spells on the sidelines due to injury.

The game of the weekend sees second-placed Atletico travel to Gary Neville's Valencia on Sunday.

Valencia moved into the top half of the table with their fifth win in their last six games in all competitions against Malaga in midweek.

However, Neville's men face a much stiffer task against an Atletico side that hasn't conceded in five games.

"Obviously it is a difficult game and we won't get carried away," Atletico boss Diego Simeone said of his side's title chances.

"Above all what matters in football is winning.

"We know it is very difficult to see Barcelona losing matches. We are only thinking about ourselves."

Atletico could be boosted by the return of Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco after three weeks out with ankle ligament damage, but inspirational defender Diego Godin is a doubt with a hamstring injury.

Villarreal hold a commanding nine-point advantage over Sevilla in the race for the fourth Champions League place and will be expected to stretch their unbeaten league run to 15 games when Las Palmas visit El Madrigal on Saturday.

Sevilla go in search of their first away win of the season at struggling Getafe, who have lost their last seven in the league.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Real Madrid v Celta Vigo (1500), Villarreal v Las Palmas (1715), Getafe v Sevilla (1930), Deportivo la Coruna v Malaga (2105)


Real Betis v Granada (1100), Eibar v Barcelona (1500), Sporting Gijon v Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad v Levante (both 1715), Valencia v Atletico Madrid (1930)


Espanyol v Rayo Vallecano (1930)