MADRID, May 7 – After cruising to the league title last season Barcelona must hold their nerve in the final two games of the season as they bid to fend off a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid team desperate for some silverware.Barcelona have notched a league record 93 points but that still hasn’t been enough to shake off Real, a point behind, and the champions have a testing trip to Sevilla on Saturday knowing a slip-up could cost them the title.
Real have refused to throw in the towel with Ronaldo scoring his first Madrid hat-trick to help his side down Real Mallorca 4-1 on Wednesday and next up is a home match against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
If Real fail to win, Barcelona can take the title with victory over Sevilla as Pep Guardiola’s side have a superior head-to-head record if the two finish level on points.
"Let’s hope Sevilla can take points off them (Barcelona), but our fate is not in our own hands," said Real coach Manuel Pellegrini. "Our obligation is to get to 98 points and we’ll see if Barca can get to 99."
Sevilla, who have already beaten Real at home in the league, will be no pushover and have everything to play for as they bid to hold onto fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying spot. Mallorca are breathing down Sevilla’s necks a point behind going into Saturday’s match at Deportivo La Coruna.
Brazilian defender Dani Alves, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Thursday, believes Barca must win both games starting with the one at old club Sevilla where he made his name winning back-to-back UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007.
"We have to take the remaining six points," said Alves. "It’s a tough season and in any other season we’d already be champions.
"It’ll be a complicated match against Sevilla but with the players we have we should be calm and relaxed. It’ll be a key match."
Sevilla, who beat Barca in the last 16 of this season’s Kings Cup, have doubts over Brazilian forward Luis Fabiano who has been out with a twisted ankle while Barca are sweating on the fitness of centre-back Gerard Pique.
Real have won 17 out of their last 18 games – with the 2-0 loss to Barcelona in ‘El Clasico’ the one black spot – to stay in the title race with the goals of Gonzalo Higuain and Ronaldo keeping them in the title race.
Ronaldo (25 goals) and Higuain (26 goals) have 51 goals between them accounting for more than half of team’s 96 total and Ronaldo has been saving the day of late with a late winner against Osasuna and then a hat-trick against Mallorca.
There have been suggestions that Real rely too heavily on Portuguese star Ronaldo, the most expensive player on the planet, and that he is becoming a one-man team – something that irks goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
"There is no Cristiano dependency and we are a team rather than individuals," insisted Casillas. "We will fight for the title until the end and can’t be looking at what Barca do."
Bilbao beat Real 1-0 at San Mames earlier in the campaign and are a tricky customer as they fight for a top six spot to qualify for the Europa League.
Bilbao are just a point behind joint sixth-placed teams Villarreal and Getafe who both have difficult home fixtures.
Villarreal host Valencia, who are already guaranteed third, while Getafe entertain a Malaga side fighting for their lives at the bottom.
Basement boys Xerez, six points from safety, are poised to bow out of the league at home to Real Zaragoza on Saturday and there are a clutch of teams fighting not to join them.
Second from bottom Valladolid are three points from safety and have an all or nothing match at home to rivals Racing Santander who are in the desired 17th spot but only a point above the drop zone.
Promoted Tenerife, third from bottom, host Almeria and Malaga, a point above the trapdoor, travel to Getafe.
Saturday – all 2000 GMT unless stated
Getafe v Malaga, Sporting Gijon v Atletico Madrid, Valladolid v Racing Santander, Sevilla v Barcelona, Tenerife v Almeria, Villarreal v Valencia, Xerez v Real Zaragoza, Espanyol v Osasuna, Deportivo La Coruna v Real Mallorca, Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao