Three-way title race firmly in Barca’s hands

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures during the UEFA Champions League quarter finals first leg football match FC Barcelona vs Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 5, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGO

Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures during the UEFA Champions League quarter finals first leg football match FC Barcelona vs Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 5, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGO

Having scored four and provided three assists as Barcelona roared back into form with an 8-0 thrashing of Deportivo la Coruna in midweek, Luis Suarez has refused to contemplate any other outcome than Barca retaining their La Liga title.

The Catalan giants lead Atletico Madrid solely thanks to their superior head-to-head record with Real Madrid just one point back in third with four games to go.

However, having taken just one point from their previous four league matches, Suarez believes Barca are fully back on course for a 24th La Liga title.

“We needed that victory. We came off the back of many games suffering and, as we are human, the defeats hurt,” he said.

“It is in our hands and if we win all our games what the others do doesn’t bother us. The normal thing would be that none of us slip up.

“We are the leaders and we are convinced we are going to win it. We aren’t contemplating anything other than winning.”

Lionel Messi and Neymar were also on target against Deportivo as Barca’s star front three responded in style to their critics as fatigue appeared to catch up with the South American trio in the past month after a hugely demanding season as Barca competed in six competitions.

And Suarez reserved special words of support for Neymar, whose performances and off-field attitude had been the target for particular criticism during Barca’s slump.

“It hurts that people put the responsiblity on him for the defeats. He is a boy with feelings and he’s my friend,” added the Uruguayan.

“We all try to support one another. He is showing by his attitude that he won’t give up.”

Barca will be back to full strength for the visit of a Sporting Gijon side fighting to avoid relegation at the bottom of the table on Saturday with Gerard Pique to return from suspension in central defence.

However, Barca could be third by the time they kick-off with Real Madrid in action away at Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid hosting Malaga earlier on Saturday ahead of their Champions League semi-finals in midweek.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a major doubt for Real’s trip to Vallecas after limping off in stoppage time of their 3-0 win over Villarreal on Wednesday with a minor hamstring problem.

The three-time World Player of the Year has been an ever-present for Madrid in La Liga this season, but is unlikely to be risked just three days before Real travel to Manchester City for the first leg of their semi-final.

However, with Zinedine Zidane’s men in sensational form having won their last eight La Liga games, midfielder Luka Modric believes they have the strength in depth to cope with Ronaldo’s absence.

“We are Real Madrid and we have the squad to fight for the two titles,” said the Croatian.

“We have a tough game at Vallecas first and then we will think about the Champions League. We are full of confidence, playing well and we have to continue like this till the end of the season.”

However, it is Atletico who appear to have the easiest run-in of the three title contenders with three of their remaining four at home.

Atletico have won eight of their last nine with Fernando Torres scoring in five consecutive games for the first time in his career to lead their late season title push.

Diego Simeone’s men will, though, also be without a key player in inspirational central defender Diego Godin as he suffered the recurrence of a hamstring problem in Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Las Palmas v Espanyol (1900)

Saturday

Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid (1400), Atletico Madrid v Malaga (1615), Barcelona v Sporting Gijon (1830), Eibar v Deportivo la Coruna (2005)

Sunday

Levante v Athletic Bilbao (1000), Sevilla v Real Betis (1400), Getafe v Valencia (1615), Villarreal v Real Sociedad (1830)



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