Barcelona goes for record 16th straight league win
Barcelona will look to make history Saturday against Atletico Madrid when the league leader goes for a Spanish record 16th straight league win.
Barcelona tied the record of 15 straight wins set by Real Madrid 50 years ago against Hercules, a victory which also allowed it to stretch its lead over Madrid to seven points in the standings.
Madrid knows it can ill afford to drop points over the second half of the season to keep the pressure on the two-time defending champions. Jose Mourinho's side looks to rebound from last weekend's defeat at Osasuna against Real Sociedad on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, where it is 17-0 this season.
But much of Spain has already written off Madrid's title hopes with such a gap to recover, and now Barcelona can add further credence to the notion that its current team could be the best in Spanish history.
"To share 15 straight victories with Di Stefano's Real Madrid is something that makes us very proud," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "That it hasn't been done in 50 years shows just how hard it is to achieve."
While Argentine great Alfredo Di Stefano led a 1960-61 Madrid team that included Ferenc Puskas, Paco Gente and Jose Emilio Santamaria, another Argentine in Lionel Messi is leading Barcelona's charge.
"He's a phenomenon, a great player, extraordinary," Di Stefano said of Messi. "He's scored goals that look like art and with genius."
Messi has scored 37 goals in all competitions to lead a team that includes Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Villa.
With Messi at the helm, Barcelona is on course to break all kinds of league records this season such as season points total, victories in a season, goals scored and fewest conceded.
Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Villa should return Saturday after being rested Wednesday as Barcelona sealed a place in the Copa del Rey final with a win at Almeria. Barcelona looks to stretch its record total of domestic cups to 26 against Madrid, which hasn't won the competition since 1993.
"There's still two and a half months until then and if we start focusing on that we'll lose our way in the other competitions," Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano said Thursday.
The Catalans have won four straight times against Atletico at the Camp Nou, where the Spanish capital club last triumphed five years ago.
Madrid reached its record 37th Copa final Wednesday with a win over Sevilla and Mourinho said restoring pride in that competition may have affected league ambitions.
"We've got to forget about the Copa, which has done us a lot of harm," the Portuguese coach said. "It cost us a lot to get to this final."
While Madrid is perfect at the Bernabeu, its recent performances have suggested the team may be tired from nine games played since Jan. 10. But Emmanuel Adebayor's first goal for the Spanish giant Wednesday showed Mourinho can look to the bench for added scoring power with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Angel Di Maria looking off form of late.
Kaka has failed to impress since returning from injury, Argentina forward Di Maria looks fatigued and Ronaldo uncharacteristically hasn't scored for four games.
Madrid may also be without midfielder Sami Khedira, who left the Sevilla match with an apparent left leg injury.
Third-place Villarreal looks to maintain its best-ever season against Levante on Sunday as the "Yellow Submarine" sits only six points behind Madrid and four points ahead of fourth-place Valencia.
"We're winning and we need keep doing so," said Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi, who leads the team with 20 goals overall. "There's still a lot of league left and because of that nothing's been achieved. So to think we've already clinched our place in the Champions League is a mistake."
Brazil striker Nilmar could return after recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him in 2011.
In the rest of the 22nd round of games, it's: Athletic Bilbao vs. Sporting Gijon; Zaragoza vs. Racing Santander; Osasuna vs. Mallorca; Almeria vs. Espanyol; Getafe vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Sevilla vs. Malaga; and Valencia vs. Hercules.