Barcelona clos­ing in on La Liga ti­tle

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

MADRID: Barcelona will have one eye on the Copa del Rey fi­nal while Europe is the main fo­cus for Real and Atletico Madrid so what is left for La Liga? Barca are 11 points clear at the top of the ta­ble but, with an over­haul of the squad ex­pected in the sum­mer, few play­ers can af­ford to ease off dur­ing the run-in.

Atletico will hope to beat ri­vals Real to sec­ond but both teams have their pri­or­i­ties now in Europe, with Real fac­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Champions League semi-fi­nals and Atleti up against Arse­nal in the last four of the Europa League next week.

Sevilla face a cru­cial few days in their chase for Euro­pean foot­ball next sea­son while at the bot­tom of the ta­ble, Le­vante can all but se­cure safety with a win over Malaga. Barca squad play­ing for their fu­tures. The league ti­tle may be all but sewn up and the treble dream ex­tin­guished but Barca’s play­ers are now play­ing for places, both in the short-term, for Satur­day’s Copa del Rey fi­nal against Sevilla, and fur­ther ahead, to stay be­yond the sum­mer. An­dres Ini­esta and Samuel Umtiti are both pon­der­ing their fu­tures while suc­ces­sors, even if not re­place­ments, need to be found for age­ing stars like Ger­ard Pique, Ser­gio Bus­quets and Luis Suarez. Ous­mane Dem­bele and An­dre Gomes still have it all to prove. Fringe play­ers are ex­pected to be given a chance against ninth­placed Celta Vigo to­day. They need to im­press.

Isco has shown the way in how to re­gain favour under Zine­dine Zi­dane, the Spa­niard con­tin­u­ing his re­cent surge with a goal and an as­sist against Malaga on Sun­day. Af­ter scor­ing a hat­trick for Spain against Ar­gentina, Zi­dane was im­pressed enough to start the mid­fielder against Ju­ven­tus last week, and Gareth Bale might draw en­cour­age­ment from Isco’s re­vival. Bale’s strained re­la­tion­ship with Zi­dane took an­other turn for the worse af­ter he was harshly hauled off at half-time against Juve but he may be given an­other shot against Ath­letic Bil­bao to­mor­row. With the first leg of the Champions League semi-fi­nal against Bay­ern Mu­nich to come next week, Bale needs a per­for­mance.

Atletico jug­gling pur­suit of Europa League glory Atletico Madrid travel to Real So­ciedad on Thurs­day, know­ing de­feat could give Barca the chance to wrap up the ti­tle in their next match against De­portivo La Coruna on April 29. But an­other strong sea­son for Atleti, in which Champions League qual­i­fi­ca­tion is al­ready con­firmed, can be given ex­tra gloss if they win the Europa League. The chal­lenge for Diego Sime­one’s pa­per-thin squad is to stay fresh, with the two-legged semi-fi­nal against Arse­nal start­ing at Emi­rates Sta­dium next week. Real So­ciedad may be primed to take ad­van­tage.

Sevilla’s sea­son could be de­fined by the next five days as a trip to lowly De­portivo La Coruna on Tues­day is fol­lowed by Satur­day’s Copa del Rey fi­nal. There was no shame in their ad­mirable Champions League run end­ing at the hands of Bay­ern last week but fail to beat De­portivo, and Sevilla may strug­gle to qual­ify for the Europa League next term, let alone the con­ti­nent’s premier club com­pe­ti­tion. A more dif­fi­cult route to the Europa League would be to beat Barca and win the cup. It is time to de­liver. —AFP

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