MADRID, Spain, April 6 – After breaking the record of goals in a Champions League season in midweek, Lionel Messi turns his attention back to La Liga where Barcelona continue their pursuit of Real Madrid with a home clash against Zaragoza.
Last month, with Madrid ten points clear at the top and on course for their first title since 2008, Barca coach Pep Guardiola claimed that the championship race was over.
But Barca have won eight league games in a row to narrow the gap at the top down to six points and, with Messi in blistering form, the Catalan side still hold an outside chance of success.
Barcelona and Real safely secured their passage into the semi-finals of the Champions League in midweek, with Messi bagging a brace of penalties in Barca’s 3-1 win against AC Milan.
The records continue to tumble for the Argentine, who has scored an incredible 24 goals in his last 12 games and now has 58 in total for the season.
Messi’s brace against Milan means that he now has a total of 14 in the Champions League, which is two more than the record that he and Ruud van Nistelrooy held.
He is now level with Jose Altafini, who scored the same number in the old European Cup for Milan in the 1962-63 season.
Messi resumes his battle this weekend for the honour of being La Liga’s top scorer on 36, trailing Cristiano Ronaldo by one.
Barca are up against a Zaragoza side fighting relegation but a victory away to Sporting Gijon last weekend took them off the bottom of the table and coach Manolo Jimenez denies that it is a hopeless task against the reigning champions.
“We can win although it will not be easy and you just need to look at the statistics to see that Barcelona are superior to us,” he said.
“I am not going to lie and we are going to go out and give 100 per cent, looking to play on the counter-attack. If I felt that we could go out and play them at their own game of one-touch passing then I would be crazy.”
Jose Mourinho’s Real are in the midst of a run of key matches but after making light work of Osasuna last weekend and then beating APOEL 5-2 in the Champions League on Wednesday, they are favourites to get the better of an off-colour Valencia.
The game at the Bernabeu comes before away matches against Atletico Madrid and the Clasico with Barcelona towards the end of the month.
Valencia remain in third place but the pressure is mounting on coach Unai Emery after a run of five games without a win.
Malaga’s push for Champions League qualification suffered a blow when they were beaten at home by Real Betis – their first defeat in seven games – last weekend.
They entertain second-bottom Racing Santander on Monday.
Levante and Osasuna have been the big surprises this season and they currently hold the Europa League places with the former facing a tough test against Atletico Madrid and the latter away to Rayo Vallecano.
Athletic Bilbao’s league form has suffered with their fine run in the Europa League and they now take on Sevilla having sunk to 11th place after five games without a win.
Bottom side Sporting Gijon, with just one point from the last four matches, play Getafe while Villarreal, a place above the drop zone, travel to Betis.
Elsewhere, Espanyol entertain Real Sociedad and Mallorca welcome Granada.
Getafe v Sporting Gijon (1600 GMT), Rayo Vallecano v Osasuna (1600 GMT), Espanyol v Real Sociedad (1600 GMT), Zaragoza v Barcelona (1800 GMT), Betis v Villarreal (2000 GMT)
Levante v Atletico Madrid (1000 GMT), Mallorca v Granada (1400 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla (1600 GMT), Real Madrid v Valencia (1930 GMT)
Malaga v Racing Santander (1900 GMT)