Barcelona looking to cash in on Madrid's struggles
By JOSEPH WILSON
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Led by the insatiable Lionel Messi, Barcelona will seek to end a perfect week on Saturday by winning at Mallorca to pile the pressure on Real Madrid after the stumbling Spanish league leader drew back-to-back matches.
Messi broke Barcelona's all-time scoring record in helping the three-time defending champions cut Madrid's lead from 10 to six points in the past two rounds.
"There are 10 games left and we have to try to take away the highest number of points possible," Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara said. "We can only concentrate on our games."
Madrid hosts Real Sociedad later on Saturday in need of a win after conceding late goals from free kicks to drop points to Malaga and Villarreal this week.
Madrid will play the match without coach Jose Mourinho, defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Mesut Oezil. They will all be serving one-game suspensions after being sent off at the end of the ill-tempered 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Wednesday.
Pepe could also face suspension and miss the game against Sociedad after reportedly insulting the referee following the match at El Madrigal stadium.
That would leave Madrid without both starting center backs and two of its most dangerous attacking players, with winger Angel Di Maria still sidelined by a nagging injury.
"They are two of the best center backs in the world, but we are talking about Real Madrid and their bench players are also very good," said Sociedad forward Carlos Vela, whose team has lost its past four games away from Anoeta stadium.
"It's going to be tough even if they don't play. We will have to have a perfect game to take away a positive result."
Despite the consecutive draws, defender Marcelo said Madrid is still on course for its first league title in four years.
"I think that any team would like to have a six-point lead," Marcelo said. "We have to stay calm. We didn't win, but the team's spirit is high."
Messi scored his eighth hat trick of the season in the 5-3 win over Granada on Tuesday to reach 234 career goals for Barcelona, passing a milestone that had stood for 57 years in the 113-year history of the club.
The Argentine forward has scored 17 goals during an eight-game winning streak for Barcelona.
This month, Messi set a Champions League record by scoring five times in one game. With 34 goals in the league so far and 10 games to go, he now has his sights set on the league record of 40 in one season, set by Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo last year.
"Messi is the one," Thiago said. "He is a player that has made history, and he will continue to do so."
Mallorca is now playing its best football in an up-and-down season. Joaquin Caparros' team has won its past two games and is unbeaten in four rounds.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola will have to find new defenders with Dani Alves suspended, Adriano injured and Eric Abidal awaiting a liver transplant.
Last-place Zaragoza hosts Atletico Madrid on Sunday hoping to build on its 2-1 victory at Valencia on Wednesday, coming from behind to win thanks to Antonio "Apono" Galdeano's double despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour.
The much-needed victory lifts Zaragoza to within five points of safety.
"We can't puff out our chests since we are still at the bottom of the table," Zaragoza coach Manolo Jimenez.
Levante's coach and players have insisted all season that their goal is avoiding the drop, and they can strengthen their hold on fourth place and Spain's last Champions League spot with a third consecutive win against Osasuna on Sunday.
Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao will look to end a three-game losing run at home against relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon.
Also on Sunday, it's: Espanyol vs. Malaga, Rayo Vallecano vs. Villarreal and Real Betis vs. Racing Santander.
Third-place Valencia visits Getafe in Saturday's late game.
Granada hosts Sevilla on Monday to finish the round.
Updated March 22, 2012