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Real Madrid to face-off against FC Barcelona on Sunday

Madrid, Feb 27 (IANS) ‘El Clasico’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona on Sunday night is without doubt the main event of the 26th round of Spanish La Liga matches, but before fans can watch a game that will go some way towards deciding this season’s title, there is a lot of football to be played.

Madrid entertain Barcelona off the back of a league defeat away to Levante and a home defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League that leaves their European hopes hanging by a thread.

Defeat to Barca would see them fall four points behind their title rivals and open the very real prospect of ending the season without a major trophy for the second consecutive year, reports Xinhua news agency.

Coach Zinedine Zidane will have to lift his players after Wednesday’s European setback and it remains to be seen whether Toni Kroos will be in his side, after the German surprisingly didn’t play a single minute against City.

Barca go into the game with injury doubts over key players; Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto are definitely out along with long-term absentees Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, meaning Nelson Semedo and Junior Firpo will be the full-backs. Meanwhile, Gerard Pique is also a doubt after twisting his ankle in the last minute of Barca’s 1-1 draw away to Napoli on Tuesday.

Real Madrid will certainly look to cause problems down Junior’s flank and Pique’s absence will make Barca’s defence look distinctly vulnerable, although Lionel Messi will look to have the last word up front.

The round of matches kicks off on Friday night as Real Sociedad continue their quest for a top-four finish with a home game against Real Valladolid.

Real Sociedad coach Imanol probably won’t rest players with a view to next week’s Copa del Rey semi-final return leg away to Mirandes, as his side have two more days to prepare for the game than their second-tier rivals.

Eibar entertain Levante on Saturday lunchtime in the wake of their 5-0 defeat in the Camp Nou and need points to climb away from the bottom three.

Valencia have to overcome a long list of injuries in their home game against Real Betis. Both Valencia coach Albert Celades and Betis’ Rubi are under the spotlight after recent poor results and the losing coach on Saturday lunchtime could be in for a nervous few days.

Second from bottom Leganes play Alaves in a game between two well-organized sides, but Alaves’ greater firepower with Lucas Perez and Joselu could prove the difference.

Saturday’s last game to Celta Vigo sees Granada warm up for their cup semi-final against Athletic Bilbao at home. Athletic have to wait until Sunday for their game against Villarreal, and the Basque side need to end a run of ten league games without a win, while at the same time conserving legs for Thursday’s cup tie in Granada.

Sevilla face Osasuna at home on Sunday lunchtime looking to build on last weekend’s 3-0 win in Getafe, while their rivals need to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat at home to Granada.

Getafe travel to play struggling Mallorca, while bottom side Espanyol need all three points when they entertain an Atletico Madrid side that has returned to form in recent matches and which should have Diego Costa leading their attack in Cornella.

–IANS

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