Barcelona are heading into tonight’s trip to Las Palmas with a number of absentees in defence which will have manager Luis Enrique scratching his head over how to configure a back line.
Gerard Pique has been ruled out due to a virus, joining injured duo Jeremy Mathieu and Aleix Vidal and suspended Sergi Roberto on the sidelines.
Those losses leave Enrique especially struggling for a right-back, with usual emergency stand-in Javier Mascherano likely to be needed in the middle alongside Samuel Umtiti.
Enrique could field a back three of Mascherano and Umtiti alongside either Jordi Alba or Lucas Digne, or another option would be to select Mascherano at right-back with Brazilian youngster Marlon Santos coming into the middle for his full debut. The Barca boss claimed to be confident that he will be able to answer the conundrum against a Las Palmas team who can pose a significant attacking threat on their day, having scored three or more goals on six occasions at home this season. “We’ve got a lot of players missing, but we have a squad which is prepared for this sort of situation and we will continue to be competitive,” Enrique said. “Marlon is definitely an option.” Even if Barca win their two remaining games, they still need leaders Real Madrid to drop at least three points in order to retain the title, but Enrique is holding out hope that an eventful season in La Liga still has another twist to come. “Everyone at the club is in high spirits about exploiting whatever chances we have for the remainder of the season,” he said. “We will fight for the title until the final day and let’s see what happens. Over the course of history we’ve seen some strange results in the last few games, and anything can happen.”
Enrique could field a back three of Mascherano and Umtiti alongside either Jordi Alba or Lucas Digne, or another option would be to select Mascherano at right-back with Brazilian youngster Marlon Santos coming into the middle for his full debut.
The Barca boss claimed to be confident that he will be able to answer the conundrum against a Las Palmas team who can pose a significant attacking threat on their day, having scored three or more goals on six occasions at home this season.
“We’ve got a lot of players missing, but we have a squad which is prepared for this sort of situation and we will continue to be competitive,” Enrique said. “Marlon is definitely an option.”
Even if Barca win their two remaining games, they still need leaders Real Madrid to drop at least three points in order to retain the title, but Enrique is holding out hope that an eventful season in La Liga still has another twist to come.
“Everyone at the club is in high spirits about exploiting whatever chances we have for the remainder of the season,” he said.
“We will fight for the title until the final day and let’s see what happens. Over the course of history we’ve seen some strange results in the last few games, and anything can happen.”
Real Madrid continue their quest for a first La Liga title in five years at home to fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday.
Zinedine Zidane’s side currently sit second in the table, level on points with leaders Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand.
Here, we looks at the main talking points ahead of a potentially-crucial match at the Bernabeu.
FIGHTING ON TWO FRONTS
Real have been balancing their attempts to win the Spanish title for the first time since 2012 with trying to become the first team to retain the Champions League.
While rivals Barcelona, who were knocked out of Europe last month, have had seven days’ rest between their last two league fixtures, Zidane’s men have faced two midweek games against neighbours Atletico, the second of which proved a real test.
Real have shown they can cut it in Europe, lifting the Champions League trophy twice in three years, but recent domestic failures mean plenty of question marks surround their ability to challenge at home and abroad.
MORE SEVILLA PUNISHMENT?
Real were unbeaten this season until the reverse fixture in January. They looked on course to continue that record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan until two goals in the final six minutes earned the hosts a 2-1 victory.
The manner of the late loss, courtesy of a Sergio Ramos own goal against his former club and a 90th-minute strike from Stevan Jovetic, will have hurt Real and they will be intent on revenge to move within touching distance of the title.
Sevilla, however, will be in no mood to roll over as they attempt to complete a memorable double by winning at the Bernabeu for the first time in eight seasons.
WILL IN-FORM JAMES HAUNT SEVILLA AGAIN?
James Rodriguez has played an increasingly prominent role in Real’s title bid and he has a fine scoring record against Sevilla. The Colombia international, who has scored five times in his last four outings, has found the back of the net against Los Nervionenses in each of his three seasons at the Bernabeu.
Along with Granada, they are the team he has had most goalscoring success against. He claimed the opener in a 2-1 league victory in 2015, scored a consolation in a 3-2 defeat in Andalusia the following year before bagging a brace during the 3-0 Copa del Rey victory this campaign.
James Rodriguez is one of only 2 midfielders in La Liga to have 9+ goals & 12+ assists (the other is Sevilla's Pablo Sarabia) pic.twitter.com/0jl7aCubw9— James FC (@TheCoIombian) April 29, 2017
VISITORS COULD ENSURE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
More important than ending their poor record in Madrid, Sevilla can seal a Champions League spot this weekend. A top-four finish is almost certainly assured, but they still need a point to mathematically guarantee it.
Defeat at Real, coupled with victory for Villarreal at home to Deportivo, would leave them requiring a result heading into the final weekend and put them under avoidable pressure. That said, they conclude the campaign at home to relegated Osasuna, a team they would expect to comfortably beat.
SAMPAOLI WILL WANT STRONG FINISH
It was not that long ago that Sevilla were in title contention and manager Jorge Sampaoli was being tipped to move on to bigger and better things.
The Argentinian, in his debut season in Spain after leading Chile to successive Copa America wins, was talked about as a potential successor to Luis Enrique at Barcelona, although that speculation died down amid three league wins from 11 – including a comprehensive loss in the Nou Camp – and Champions League elimination to Leicester.
Sampaoli will no doubt be desperate for Sevilla to finish the campaign in style and restore any damage to his reputation.
Each week, Sport360 brings you the best five players from La Liga, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.
YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five, so be sure to rate each weekend.
What do you make of this week’s ratings?
1. JAMES RODRIGUEZ (REAL MADRID) – 7.7
Zinedine Zidane has famously made a habit of full-scale rotation in between Champions League games this season, and there have even been questions about whether Real Madrid’s ‘B’ team is even better than the ‘A’ team. The reserves have certainly been dominant in recent outings, led by players like Isco, Alvaro Morata, and, on Saturday, James Rodriguez.
23 - James Rodriguez has been involved in more goals than any other La Liga midfielder this season (11 goals and 12 assists - all comps). 10 pic.twitter.com/mqQpcJj4sr— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 6, 2017
The Colombian’s brace kept up a fine run of form, which must make him wonder what more he has to do to earn Zidane’s faith and graduate to the first-choice XI. It’s no wonder there are strong rumours linking him with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu this summer.
2. EZEQUIEL GARAY (VALENCIA) – 7.7
Ezequiel Garay has been solid at the back during Valencia’s bid to turnaround their season after another horrible start, but on Sunday it was his presence in the opposition box that was crucial to Los Che’s win. The Argentinian’s brace helped his side cruise to a 4-1 victory over bottom side Osasuna.
Valencia had secured their safety a while ago, although this is a club used to fighting at the other end of the table, and given their poor showing in recent years, they will struggle to keep hold of Garay.
3. LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA) – 7.7
While Neymar stole the headlines on Sunday with a dazzling display against Villarreal, a certain Argentinian brought up 50 goals for the season across all competitions with a brace.
The maestro has carried Barcelona this season, almost single-handedly keeping them in the title race. Although no such heroics were needed this time, as the Blaugrana cruised to a 4-1 victory, his two-goal haul was another reminder that while his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo is shining on the European stage, Messi and his teammates will not give up their Spanish crown without a fight.
4. SIMONE ZAZA (VALENCIA) – 7.6
The Italian is unrecognizable from the player who had little to no impact in the Premier League, struggling to produce anything for West Ham.
A January move to Valencia has brought out the best in Zaza, who scored the third in Valencia’s 4-1 win. That was his sixth goal for the Whites, and he has certainly made his presence felt in Spain. Hammers fans will be forgiven for wondering where this Zaza was six months ago.
5. ALVARO MORATA (REAL MADRID) – 7.6
Another who has benefited from Real Madrid’s rotation policy, and another who will wonder why he isn’t making the step up to the first XI. Morata bagged another brace to bring his total to 20 goals across all competitions this season, more than Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema.
Alvaro Morata has now scored as many league goals (15) in 24 games for Real Madrid this season as he did in 63 games for Juventus.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 6, 2017
Yet despite outscoring his more illustrious teammates, Morata has had to be content with a place on the bench, starting only when the big guns are rested. Real Madrid’s strength in depth is astonishing, but how long will they be able to keep all the players who would easily get first-team minutes elsewhere?