Barca gunning for new record
Barcelona have another record in their sights this weekend as they prepare to welcome new-look Malaga to the Camp Nou.
Barca have already set numerous records during a remarkable two-and-a-half seasons under Pep Guardiola, including winning all six available trophies in 2009, and they could be celebrating another on Sunday if they avoid defeat against lowly Malaga.
That would beat the club record of 27 matches unbeaten set during the 1973-74 campaign, which Guardiola's men equalled during last night`s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg tie against Real Betis.
That match saw Lionel Messi prove once again why he is considered by many to be the best player of his generation as he followed up his Ballon d'Or success on Monday with the first three goals in a 5-0 win.
Barca winger Pedro Rodriguez, who also got on the scoresheet, said: "I want to congratulate Messi for his work for the team and for proving that he is the best in the world."
A victory for Barca in the 19th round of fixtures this weekend would ensure they finish the first half of the Primera Division season in top spot as they currently hold a two-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid.
Malaga are 16th in the standings but could be something of an unknown quantity having signed five new players during the winter transfer window.
Powerful striker Jose Salomon Rondon, who joined the Andalusians last summer, is hoping his side can cause an upset at the Camp Nou, saying: "They feel good at home, but we are going there with the desire to get three points. It's going to be difficult, but not impossible."
Real Madrid are in similarly good form to Barca this season and they go to second-bottom Almeria having rattled off five successive league wins since going down 5-0 at the Camp Nou, including beating third-placed Villarreal 4-2 last weekend.
However, Madrid, who play city rivals Atletico in the cup on Thursday evening, suffered a blow this week when it was confirmed striker Gonzalo Higuain is unlikely to be available for between three to four months after undergoing back surgery.
Villarreal slipped 11 points behind Madrid following their defeat at the Bernabeu, and it now seems their challenge will be to try and hold onto third place.
The Yellow Submarine, who have earned 25 from a possible 27 points at home this season, host an Osasuna side who have picked up only two points from nine away games.
Fourth-placed Valencia, who are two points behind Villarreal, are at home to Deportivo La Coruna while Espanyol, in fifth, travel to improving Sevilla, who are up to 10th place and have won four and drawn the other of their last five competitive matches.
On Wednesday night, Sevilla hit back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to draw their Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg at Villarreal 3-3.
Goalkeeper Javi Varas, whose side had lost six of seven matches prior to their current impressive run, said after the match: "Next to Barcelona, Villarreal are the team who play the best football in the Spanish league. It was a difficult game, nice for the fans, and we were able to take a good result back to Sevilla with us."
Sevilla are one of five clubs up to Atletico Madrid in sixth place who are separated by just one point in the chase for the European spots.
Atletico Madrid host eighth-placed Real Mallorca on Monday night, while seventh-placed Getafe face Real Sociedad, and Athletic Bilbao in ninth welcome Racing Santander to San Mames.
This weekend`s other match pitches third-bottom Sporting Gijon against Hercules, who will be in buoyant mood following their 4-1 win over Atletico on Monday night.