Barely a third of the way through La Liga’s 2016-17 campaign and already Barcelona are facing what appears to be a make-or-break juncture in their season if they’re to rope in runaway leaders Real Madrid.
Los Blancos lead Spain’s top flight coming into Week 16—the final round of fixtures before the winter break—although they’ll be missing from action due to their commitments at the FIFA Club World Cup.
That means Barcelona will have their chance to climb within three points of their rivals when they play host to derby opponents Espanyol, although Sunday’s home encounter provides no easy task of its own.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid play host to Las Palmas on Saturday hoping for a swift recovery from their 3-0 hammering at Villarreal on Monday, knowing anything but a victory would stretch their winless streak to four on the trot.
Only once in 2016 have Los Rojiblancos gone four matches without tasting victory, although it’s worth noting they also came up against Barcelona, Sevilla and Celta Vigo (twice) in that January barren spell.
Speaking of Celta, Eduardo Berizzo’s men travel to Athletic Bilbao on Monday in the knowledge a three-point haul could lift them above their Basque hosts, although the last time they won at San Mames came all the way back in 2006.
In fact, that decade-old result was one of just two times that Celta Vigo have managed to defeat Athletic Club in the league, according to Statto, with the other triumph falling in March 2002.
Sevilla were the last team to defeat Celta and handed the Galician outfit a 3-0 thumping last Sunday, and they welcome Malaga this Saturday hoping to patch together another fine run of form to end their year.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side could in theory, end 2016 in second place should Barca fail to beat Espanyol, but three points against the Anchovies would at least move Sevilla up the order for a minimum of 24 hours.