Desperately trying to keep pace with two other co-leaders in La Liga, Barcelona will host struggling Rayo Vallecano in Camp Nou on Saturday for a match between two clubs on opposite ends of the table.
While Barcelona are in a three-way tie for first place with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Vallecano dwell down in 19th place and looking to be a relegation candidate. The goal differential between the two is a whopping 73-goal advantage for Barcelona, as the co-leaders own a plus-46 differential to Vallecano's minus-27.
However, despite Rayo Vallecano's struggles throughout the season, they have done relatively well as of late, unbeaten in their last two league games and having gotten a result in three of their last five outings.
Let's take a closer look into the matchup.
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
When: Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. ET/7 p.m. GMT
Watch: beIN Sports
Live Stream: beIN Sports Play
Top Storyline: Will Barcelona Get Caught Looking Ahead?
All eyes are seemingly already on the titan of a matchup upcoming in Tuesday's Champions League round of 16 between Barcelona and Manchester City, but Barcelona still have to take care of some important business in league play first.
Could they be too caught up in thinking ahead to put their all into Saturday's game? Or will they use the upcoming showdown to motivate them to a big league showing against an overmatched foe?
Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino insists the former won't happen, per the club's official website, as he proves the co-leaders won't be taking their league contest lightly by even refusing to talk about the City match:
Martino repeated several times that this Saturday’s game is a huge matter, and he refused to be distracted by questions about the upcoming Champions League clash with Manchester City. "I’m not worried about that yet," he insists. "We are perfectly focused on the game with Rayo... It hurt us a lot to lose top spot against Valencia and it was very hard to win it back against Sevilla... Now it’s important for us to continue to win and stay in first place, but this is going to be a difficult game."
In order to field his best squad in Tuesday's all-important game, however, Martino could return Neymar to the pitch at some point, if not start him. The Brazilian star was cleared to return to the squad on Friday, per Associated Press via Fox Sports, and will be available for Saturday's game.
However, per the club's site, star midfielder Xavi will be kept out of the lineup.
A quick look into their recent outings is all it should take for Barcelona to realize the importance of this game. They have only won two of their last five league games, tying two of those and dropping one to Valencia that kept them from taking the league lead.
Atletico and Real have done plenty to allow Barcelona to stroll into a commanding La Liga lead, and whether it has been injuries, defensive issues or anything in between, La Blaugrana haven't been able to take advantage.
Both of Barcelona's fellow co-leaders have relatively easy matches in front of them this weekend, so failing to pick up three points could spell doom for the reigning champs.
Even if Barcelona come out flat or face a lion's share of struggles, it's hard to imagine them not leaving the pitch with three points in hand.
Playing at home, La Blaugrana wear out nearly every opponent with their lull-you-to-sleep possession game and a plethora of able-footed attackers ready to pour on goals. Whether they have Xavi or not, this style still permeates through each of the 11 players and takes a heavy toll on the opposition.
The only way they could be tested here is if the opponent could notch a handful of goals on their own against Barcelona's inconsistent defense, but Rayo haven't shown much ability to do that. Their only two results this season with more than two goals came in both the season opener and last weekend.
Barcelona 4, Rayo Vallecano 0
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