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By ESPN Staff

La Liga: Valencia slip could hand Barca title

MADRID, April 21 (Reuters) - Barcelona will be presented with their first chance to claim the league title this weekend if rivals Valencia fail to beat relegation-threatened Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

As long as Valencia lose or draw against the Basque side in the early match, the Catalans will be able to secure their second successive league crown with victory at sixth-placed Sevilla in Sunday's late match.

With bigger European fish to fry, Barca coach Frank Rijkaard may decide to rest some players for the Sevilla game.

The Dutchman's most pressing concern is to ensure his side head into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against AC Milan with a full complement of fit players.

Barca beat the Italians 1-0 at the San Siro on Tuesday but they have suffered a string of injuries recently. Defender Oleguer is the latest to join the absentee list and Rijkaard is likely to take a cautious approach to the Sevilla match.

His team enjoy a 11-point lead over Valencia at the top of the table with only five games left and he knows the title will drop into Barcelona's lap sooner or later.

Striker Samuel Eto'o would like the issue settled as soon as possible.

"We all want to win the league as soon as we can," the Cameroon international said this week. "If we get the chance why shouldn't we take it?

"As for being rested, I feel more tired if I don't play. I need to play to feel right."

As well as Oleguer, Barca will also be without Sweden striker Henrik Larsson and Argentine forward Lionel Messi who have thigh injuries.

In view of his shortage of resources up front Rijkaard may give Messi's Argentine colleague Maxi Lopez a run against UEFA Cup semi-finalists Sevilla.

Valencia have edged two points clear of Real Madrid in the race for the runners-up spot, which guarantees an all-important berth in the Champions League group stage, after winning their last three games.

Bilbao, who are just two points above the relegation zone after last week's 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid, are in desperate need of a win to stop them dropping out of the top flight for the first time in their history.

Fellow strugglers Malaga, who are seven points adrift at the bottom of the table, will be trying to cling on to their last hopes of survival when they take on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Real have won one and drawn six of their last seven games and will be keen to stave off further criticism with an emphatic victory in front of their home fans.