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Leagues: La Liga

Real Madrid seek recovery against Celta after Barca loss, before Chelsea


Madrid (AFP) – Real Madrid’s trip to Celta Vigo might once have been seen as a chance to rest and reset but the Clasico capitulation has raised the stakes ahead of next week’s Champions League first leg against Chelsea. 

Madrid are nine points clear at the top of La Liga, which should still be more than enough to hold off a resurgent Barca and Sevilla to win the Spanish title. 

But Barcelona’s 4-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu before the international break has left the door just slightly ajar, with Barca hoping their thumping win can prompt an unexpected collapse from their rivals. 

“If there is the slightest option to take advantage, we will go for it,” Sergio Busquets said.

Madrid will erase the doubts by prevailing at Balaidos while another slip would create a sense of crisis, especially if Barcelona crank up the pressure further by winning a tough game at home to Sevilla on Sunday night. 

Carlo Ancelotti has been isolating at home this week after testing positive for Covid-19 and it remains to be seen if the Italian is able to take his place on the bench this weekend. 

Ancelotti’s symptoms are light and Madrid are confident he will return in time for the first leg at Stamford Bridge. 

There are also question marks around the fitness of Karim Benzema, whose absence proved hugely significant against Barcelona, not least because Ancelotti caused havoc in his attempts to replace him. If Benzema is not deemed ready, Celta’s chances will be considerably enhanced. 

Real Madrid’s performance on Saturday will also inform the build-up to their meeting with Chelsea on Wednesday, when they will need to be at their most asssured against Thomas Tuchel’s reigning European champions. 

Ancelotti might have circled the visit to Vigo as a chance to ease key players back in after some lengthy outings for their national teams but there is less margin now for error, at least psychologically, after the Barca loss.

“I am very sorry for the defeat, I am very sad but I keep it in perspective, which is that we have a nine-point lead in the league and we’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Ancelotti said.

The onus is also on Barcelona to back up their Clasico demolition by beating Sevilla if they retain any hopes of making Madrid feel uncomfortable. 

More likely is victory at Camp Nou will accelerate Barca’s pursuit of second, with Sevilla only three points in front, having played one game more. 

Xavi Hernandez’s side are the form team in the division, unbeaten in the league since December and with five victories from their last five matches. 

Concerns over Champions League qualification are a distant memory and it is not inconceivable the Catalans achieve both routes to Europe’s premier tournament, by finishing in the top four and then winning the Europa League, where they are surely now favourites. 

Barcelona would be top of the table if La Liga began in January while Sevilla would be fifth, their own hopes of a title challenge undone by a series of draws in recent weeks. 

Seven draws in their last nine games have allowed Real Madrid to pull away and while a top-four place should be secure for Sevilla, Barca and Atletico Madrid could yet finish second and third if the downturn continues. 

Atletico, now four points ahead of fifth-placed Real Betis, play at home to Alaves on Saturday, hoping to continue their own revival ahead of Tuesday’s first leg against Manchester City. Betis host Osasuna on Sunday. 

Fixtures (GMT) 

Saturday 

Getafe v Mallorca (1300), Levante v Villarreal (1515), Celta Vigo v Real Madrid (1730), Atletico Madrid v Alaves (2000) 

Sunday 

Athletic Bilbao v Elche (1300), Real Betis v Osasuna (1515), Granada v Rayo Vallecano (1730), Valencia v Cadiz (1730), Barcelona v Sevilla (2000) 

Monday 

Real Sociedad v Espanyol (2000) 

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