MADRID, April 2, 2010 (AFP) - Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are locked at the top of La Liga, will be desperate for morale-boosting wins this weekend ahead of the mouth-watering 'El Clasico'.
With nine games left champions Barca and leaders Real have 74 points with third-placed Valencia an incredible 21 points behind.
Barcelona are second on goal difference and could be fatigued after their 2-2 Champions League quarter-final draw at Arsenal on Wednesday.
But they can't afford to slip up at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday with the testing trip to Madrid on the horizon.
|Barcelona's striker Thierry Henry (C) vies with Arsenal's defender Emmanuel Eboue (L) and midfielder Abou Diaby (R) during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final 1st leg football match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on March 31, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
Real are at Racing Santander on Sunday as they go in search of a 12th consecutive league win.
Barcelona should have beaten Arsenal convincingly at the Emirates in midweek with coach Pep Guardiola saying it was better than any of their European displays last season when they won the trophy.
"If we play like we did in London we will drop very few points and if we want to win titles we always have to go out like we did against Arsenal," said Barcelona captain Carles Puyol.
"It is a key point in the season and we are up against a tough rival in (Athletic) Bilbao who are having a great season. The league is very competitive and we can't slip-up."
Bilbao are in sixth, just two points off the Champions League spots.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is certainly the the man to stop for Bilbao with the Swede scoring five goals in his last four games in all competitions.
Barcelona will be without the injured Andres Iniesta as well as Dani Alves who is suspended but available for next weekend's duel with Real.
Real Madrid have been able to rest up this week due to their Champions League elimination and hope to continue their 11-match winning streak with victory at lowly Racing.
Racing are not out of the woods yet in the relegation battle lying six points above the drop zone.
"We have to focus on ourselves. We know that Racing are still not safe and need the points so it is going to be a difficult game," said defender Raul Albiol.
"Going forward we have an impressive number of goals (81 goals in 29 games) and that has helped us record this high tally of points.
"Recently we have not been able to keep clean sheets and we hope that we can get back to not conceding goals in the key games."
Real welcome back French midfielder Lass Diarra from injury but Spanish internationals Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos are suspended.
The match sees Racing starlet Sergio Canales, 19, face his future employers having struck a deal to join Real in the summer for a reported 4.5 million euros.
Elsewhere Sevilla are bidding to end a run of six league games without a win as they host Tenerife.
Sevilla are two points behind fourth-placed Real Mallorca with new coach Antonio Alvarez seeking his first win in charge after his debut ended in a forgetful 3-0 drubbing at Villarreal.
Tenerife, third from bottom, are the only team yet to win on the road this season collecting just three points on their travels.
Valencia are eight points ahead of fifth-placed Sevilla and can consolidate third spot with a home victory over Osasuna on Sunday.
Two Europa League hopefuls Deportivo La Coruna and Atletico Madrid face off at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
Depor have lost their last three matches to fall three points off the top six while Atletico are eight points from the final European spot after their 3-2 derby defeat to Real last weekend.
Real Zaragoza v Malaga (1600 GMT), Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao (1800 GMT), Sevilla v Tenerife (2000 GMT)
Sunday - all 1500 GMT unless stated
Valladolid v Villarreal, Sporting Gijon v Xerez, Getafe v Espanyol, Almeria v Real Mallorca, Valencia v Osasuna, Racing Santander v Real Madrid (1700 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Deportivo La Coruna (1900 GMT)