MADRID: After notching a record-breaking 52 points at the halfway stage of the season, champions Barcelona are in the box seat to win a third consecutive Spanish league title, holding a four-point lead over rivals Real Madrid.
Barcelona have won 13 league games in a row with their last league loss back in mid-September and aim to continue that sequence with three points at home to Racing Santander on Saturday.
“Maybe you could say four points were a good lead with another team, but if there is a team that has lots of lives it is Real Madrid and that advantage is nothing,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola, who turned 40 on Tuesday, watched his side surrender their 28-game unbeaten run in all competitions with a 3-1 Kings Cup second leg loss to second division Real Betis on Wednesday, although their 5-0 first leg win saw them reach the semi-finals of the tournament.
“This loss was a real lesson for us,” said Brazilian defender Adriano.
“However, it wasn't down to a poor attitude or tension, it was just they scored two early goals.”
Racing are up next and Barcelona must do without Brazilian Dani Alves due to a calf injury so Adriano could fill in or the versatile Carles Puyol may be asked to move to right back.
Real Madrid, four points behind Barcelona in second, can't afford many more slip-ups if they are to overhaul their rivals and hope to maintain their perfect home record with victory over Real Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
Real, who saw off Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Kings Cup quarter-final on Thursday, dropped two crucial points in a 1-1 draw with bottom side Almeria last weekend and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has set the lofty target of winning the remaining 19 league games.
“If we win all our games in the second half of the season we will be champions,” Ronaldo said in an interview with Spanish daily Marca.
“Real can't go another season without winning a title.”
Ronaldo, who scored the only goal against Atletico on Thursday, has 22 league goals this season to top the charts but the club are desperate for another source of goals with Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain out injured for four months.
Real boss Jose Mourinho has a recognised striker in Karim Benzema, but the French international has yet to win his coach over and the club have openly been trying to sign a forward in the January transfer window with former favourite Ruud van Nistelrooy, now at German club Hamburg, the preferred choice.
Mallorca, managed by former Real player Michael Laudrup, drew 0-0 with Real in the season's opener but have just two aways wins to their name after scoring just eight goals.
In other matches, Sevilla aim to build on their midweek cup success - they beat Villarreal 3-0 on Wednesday to move into the semi-finals of the Kings Cup - and use the second half of the season to push up into the Champions League places.
Sevilla host promoted Levante on Saturday needing the win as they currently lie 11 points off the top four.
Villarreal are third and hope to put their cup setback behind them with a home win over Real Sociedad on Sunday.
At the mid-way point in the season, Valencia have their desired fourth place and host struggling Malaga on Saturday trying to fend off the teams below with Espanyol just three points behind in fifth.
After drawing against Real last weekend, Almeria reached the Kings Cup semi-finals - where they will face Barcelona - for the first time in their history by overcoming Deportivo La Coruna.
Despite the impressive cup run, staying up is the main priority for Almeria who prop up the table ahead of Sunday's home match against Osasuna.
Sevilla v Levante (1700 GMT), Barcelona v Racing Santander (1900 GMT), Valencia v Malaga (2100 GMT)
Sunday - all 1600 GMT unless stated
Sporting Gijon v Atletico Madrid, Real Zaragoza v Deportivo La Coruna, Getafe v Espanyol, Almeria v Osasuna, Real Madrid v Real Mallorca (1800 GMT), Villarreal v Real Sociedad (2000 GMT)
Athletic Bilbao v Hercules (2000 GMT)