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Barca, seek to increase gap as Madrid miss in action

Real Madrid’s Club World Cup commitments mean Barcelona, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have a huge chance to put even more distance between themselves and the European champions this weekend. Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad face off at San Mames, while newly promoted Girona and Getafe have the chance to move into the top six.

If they dispose of Deportivo la Coruna at the Camp Nou on Sunday, Barca will take a commanding 11-point lead over Real. Next weekend, Barca travel to the Santiago Bernabeu as the Catalans and Real Madrid end their year with El Clasico.

Even with a game in hand to come, Madrid have never overcome such a deficit to win the league and to remain in the title race would realistically need to inflict Barca’s first defeat since they last visited the Bernabeu back in August to win the Spanish Super Cup.

Further aiding Barca’s bid to regain the title is Luis Suarez’s return to form after a poor start to the season. Suarez struggled for both form and fitness after rushing back from a knee injury suffered as Barca fell to Madrid in the Super Cup.

However, the Uruguayan has scored in his last two outings against Celta Vigo and Villarreal with the latter strike in particular displaying the touch and speed of movement of Suarez at his best.

Deportivo also tend to bring the best out of the former Liverpool striker as he has netted six times in his last three meetings against the Galicians. Athletic and Sociedad are both in need of some festive cheer in the midst of hugely disappointing campaigns so far only propped up by progress to the last 32 of the Europa League.

Both sides have just two league wins each since mid-September and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by third tier opposition in Formentera and Lleida Esportiu.

However, with just six points separating sixth from 17th in the table, European ambitions for next season are still a realistic goal for the Basque teams if squads boasting the talents of Spanish internationals Kepa Arrizabalaga, Inaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz, Asier Illarramendi and Alvaro Odriozola start playing to their potential.

With Girona hosting Getafe before Villarreal’s trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday, a win for either side will take them into the top six for a few hours at least despite having two of the five smallest budgets in the division. -AFP

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