Unbeaten record in sight for unstoppable Barca
02 March 2016, 14:06
Madrid - European champions Barcelona can set a new record for consecutive games unbeaten when they travel to lowly Rayo Vallecano on Thursday aiming to tighten their grip on the La Liga title.
Barca stretched their unbeaten streak to 34 games dating back to October with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Sevilla on Sunday to lead Atletico Madrid by eight points at the top of La Liga with Real Madrid a further four points back in third.
Indeed, the Catalan giants look well set to repeat their treble of league, Cup and Champions League from last season having also progressed to the Copa del Rey final and beaten Arsenal 2-0 away in the first-leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
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However, coach Luis Enrique has insisted records will mean nothing without the titles and defender Jordi Alba said they are wary of not being complacent with just 12 league games to go.
"In the dressing room there is precaution and at any moment the opponent can cause us problems," said the Spanish international.
"Atletico Madrid continue to put the pressure on."
The suspended Dani Alves and long-term injury absentee Rafinha are the only players unavailable to Luis Enrique, but he is likely to rotate in defence and midfield once more to keep his side fresh for the final few months of the season.
However, the star front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are expected to start once more in attack.
Rayo are unbeaten in seven league games, including five 2-2 draws, but remain just two points above the relegation zone.
"It is difficult to beat Barca because we are facing the best team in the world with the best players, said Rayo midfielder Roberto Trashorras.
"One day they will lose and we have to try to make sure that is on Thursday."
Atletico have the chance to close the gap to five points on Tuesday when they host Real Sociedad at the Vicente Calderon.
"We return to the Calderon with lots of enthusiasm and desire. The strength we gained from Saturday is enormous," said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
"Many teams change their way of playing when they come to the Calderon. They will sit back and look for the speed of their strikers. That means we need to work doubly hard to find the way to open the game up."
Real Madrid are in action on Wednesday when they travel to bottom-placed Levante looking to put Zinedine Zidane's first defeat as coach behind them.
The Frenchman's task wasn't aided by Cristiano Ronaldo's rant at his own teammates after the Atletico game, claiming Real "would be top" if they all matched the three-time World Player of the Year's standards.
"Cristiano has spoken with everyone. This subject is behind us," Zidane said on Tuesday.
"We are thinking only about tomorrow's game, doing the best we can and winning."
Real will be without influential midfielder Luka Modric due to a foot problem, whilst Gareth Bale won't be risked despite returning to training on Tuesday after six weeks out with a calf injury.
Madrid could even fall to fourth should they fail to win and Villarreal continue their 13-game unbeaten streak with victory at Celta Vigo.
Gary Neville is also targeting a return to winning ways when Valencia travel to Malaga looking to move into the top half of the table on Wednesday.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad (2000), Las Palmas v Getafe (2100)
Sevilla v Eibar, Celta Vigo v Villarreal, Malaga v Valencia, Athletic Bilbao v Deportivo la Coruna (all 1900), Levante v Real Madrid (2000)
Granada v Sporting Gijon (1900), Espanyol v Real Betis (1930), Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona (2000)