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Barcelona eye El Clasico boost in title race

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MADRID, Spain, January 20 – Barcelona believe their latest El Clasico victory over Real Madrid will be the perfect tonic as they attempt to eat into their bitter rivals’ five-point lead at La Liga summit.

Barcelona beat Real 2-1 in a bad-tempered King’s Cup quarter-final first leg clash in midweek and will start as favourites to wrap up the tie in the second leg at their Nou Camp home next week.

Before then, the defending champions travel to Malaga on Sunday while Real tackle Athletic Bilbao.

In Wednesday’s feverish cup atmosphere, Jose Mourinho’s Real looked nothing like the side which had won all but one of their last 23 matches and amassed 63 goals so far this season in the league.

That lone defeat had also come against Barcelona in December.

Real have been stuttering away from home recently where they have only won three out of eight games and looked defensively frail last weekend in the 4-2 win over Real Betis.

In midweek, Mourinho preferred to offer a more defensive display where Pepe was once again the villain.

The Portuguese attempted to stop Barca with some over the top challenges with the worst offence his crude stamping on the hand of Lionel Messi as the Argentine star lay on the ground.

Gerard Pique has not been a regular in the Barca side this season due to injuries and has often been left out when coach Pep Guardiola has played three at the back.

He produced a solid performance against Real and said that when Barca play to their potential they are still the team to beat.

“That was one of our best performances and when we play like that then we are not going to lose. We have a style of football which we have been playing for many years and we play the same in whichever stadium,” he said.

“In the head-to-head matches we have come out on top against Madrid which is great as it shows we are stronger than them but we must improve generally to win the league and we face a big match this weekend against Malaga.”

Real Betis and Sevilla clash in a passionate local derby but the match has been overshadowed in recent years by crowd trouble and directors from both clubs have met this week in an effort to urge a more peaceful atmosphere.

Sevilla are a point below the European places with Valencia leading the chase behind the front two and they take on Osasuna.

Levante are still hanging onto the other Champions League berth despite losing 3-0 last weekend to Athletic Bilbao.

They haven’t won in the league since early December but they will hope to end that run against bottom side Zaragoza who are five points adrift.

Espanyol are also in the European hunt and take on Granada while Atletico Madrid, who have responded well after the appointment of Diego Simeone, travel to Real Sociedad.

It is set to be a tense clash between relegation threatened Villarreal and Sporting Gijon while Racing Santander are also in action against Getafe and Rayo Vallecano entertain Mallorca.

Saturday (Kick-offs GMT)

Racing Santander v Getafe 1700, Espanyol v Granada 1700, Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid 1900, Real Betis v Sevilla 2100

Sunday

Osasuna v Valencia 1100, Rayo Vallecano v Mallorca 1500, Malaga v Barcelona 1700, Levante v Zaragoza 1845, Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao 2030

Monday

Villarreal v Sporting Gijon 20.00

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