By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – After somehow snatching a 4-4 draw at Villarreal in one of the most memorable games in recent La Liga history, Barcelona can practically seal the title when they host nearest challengers Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Tuesday’s eight-goal thriller, in which Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored in stoppage-time, may have trimmed their advantage over Atletico to eight points but it underlined the Catalan side’s single-mindedness about winning the league.
“The spirit which we showed to never give up demonstrates how much we want to lift this league title,” Suarez said after the Villarreal game, in which his side trailed 4-2 in the 90th minute.
Since their last league defeat by Real Betis in November, Barca have been on a relentless run of 14 wins and four draws, led by strikers Messi and Suarez, the leading scorers in Spain with 32 and 19 goals respectively.
The South American strikers have netted a combined 51 times, more than every other team in Spain apart from Real Madrid, who have 53.
If Barca can beat Atletico, who have not won at the Nou Camp since 2006, they will take an 11-point lead at the top of the standings with seven games left, all but guaranteeing they win an eighth title in 11 years.
Atletico have been Barca’s only genuine challengers for top spot for some time but after their hopes faded with three defeats in their last nine games, victory on Saturday is their last chance of overhauling the Catalans.
“Even though it’s difficult we’ll always keep fighting and on Saturday we face the best team in the league and it would be great to reduce the points gap,” midfielder Rodrigo said.
“As long as we have a chance we’re going to set the bar high and we’re going to try and make things as hard as possible for them.”
Atletico’s record of only six away wins this season does not make for encouraging reading, nor does the fact they are set to be without strikers Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa through injury as well as record signing Thomas Lemar.
Barca have an almost clean bill of health for the game and could welcome back Ousmane Dembele after the France forward returned to light training following a muscle injury.
Elsewhere in La Liga, third-placed Real Madrid host Eibar after falling to their first defeat since Zinedine Zidane’s return by losing 2-1 at Valencia.
Fourth-placed Getafe host resurgent Athletic Bilbao in a vital game for both sides’ ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League, while Valencia visit struggling Rayo Vallecano, ready to seize fourth spot should Getafe fail to win.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)