With Real Madrid and city rivals Atletico both registering wins in the midweek La Liga programme, victory for Barcelona on Thursday night will leave matters in the Spanish title race unchanged with 11 games remaining.
Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half penalty in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win at basement club Levante on Wednesday took the Portuguese to 23 Primera goals for the season, just two behind Luis Suarez in the Spanish goalscoring chart. Coach Zinedine Zidane gave teenager Borja Mayoral a start, and the young striker forced an own goal for his side's second goal, while Isco added a third in stoppage time.
Despite their win, Los Blancos stay third in the table, four points behind Atleti. Leaders Barca, meanwhile, can extend their lead over Diego Simeone’s men back up to eight points with a win at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday night, a result that would also see them restore a 12-point advantage over Real Madrid.
Barcelona are expected to win comfortably at Vallecas, and if they do, they will set a new record of 35 games unbeaten in all competitions, overtaking a 28-year-old milestone set by Madrid. Looking further ahead, a Barca win in the Camp Nou Clasico at the beginning of next month would almost certainly see Los Blancos out of the title race. With Enrique’s side having already done the double over Atletico, the League title seems to be theirs to lose.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz strengthened his challenge among this season’s Pichichi contenders by hitting his second treble of the season as Athletic Bilbao dispatched Deportivo La Coruna 4-1 at San Mames on Wednesday. Aduriz, whose previous came in a 3-0 win at Rayo Vallecano in November, also staked his claim for inclusion in Spain's squad for Euro 2016 as he took his tally to 17 goals in 26 games in La Liga, having also netted seven times in nine Europa League matches.
Another Pichichi challenger, Antoine Griezmann, notched Atleti’s third goal in their 3-0 win against his former club Real Sociedad on Tuesday. The Frenchman, who has now hit the target 14 times in 27 Primera appearances, too has netted four goals in seven Champions League games.
Elsewhere, Fernando Llorente’s fourth goal of the campaign was enough to earn Sevilla their 12th straight home win, 1-0 over Eibar, while Gary Neville oversaw a third League victory in four at Malaga, where Valencia ran out 2-1 victors. Duje Cop scored his third goal of the season to give the hosts an early lead, but Los Che gained an unexpected lifeline when Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni inexplicably palmed the ball into his own net, before Denis Cheryshev seized on a sublime through ball from Andre Gomes to net Valencia’s winner.
At the foot of the table, Las Palmas gave their survival hopes a boost with a 4-0 triumph over fellow strugglers Getafe on Tuesday night, Pedro Dominguez scoring twice, while Granada and Sporting Gijon, both occupying places in the drop zone, face one another in a relegation six-pointer at Los Carmenes on Thursday.