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La Liga Preview: Elche v Barcelona

Barcelona begin the most important two weeks of their season hoping to inflict a first home Liga defeat in nearly five months on Elche.

Gerardo Martino’s men know they will retain their title if they win both of their remaining two matches after leaders Atletico Madrid and third-placed Real Madrid failed to take advantage of them drawing 2-2 at home to Getafe last week.

Atletico lost 2-0 at Levante 24 hours after Barca’s draw, while Real only took a point from their match against Valencia and then drew 1-1 at Real Vallodolid in midweek.

Therefore, Barca sit three points adrift of Atleti and one ahead of Real, with the Catalan giants scheduled to host Diego Simeone’s team on the final day of the season.

Elche, however, will likely provide stern opposition for the reigning champions on Sunday.

Fran Escriba’s side are unbeaten in their last nine home Liga games, and know a point against Barca would assure their top-flight survival.

Barca are unlikely to have too much trouble stifling an Elche attack that has scored just 29 goals in La Liga this season, but breaking down one of the meanest defence in the bottom half will be a challenge.

Elche have shipped just 47 goals this term, conceding only twice at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero since the turn of the year.

And Escriba is hopeful of providing yet another twist in the title race this weekend.

“We have to be more intense than in the game at the Camp Nou. I trust that we will score and we can win,” he said.

Barca ran out 4-0 winners in the reverse fixture, with Alexis Sanchez grabbing a hat-trick on that occasion.

Elche will be without goalkeeper Tono and defender Alberto Botia through suspension.

Barca have longstanding injury worries throughout the squad with regular first-teamers Victor Valdes (knee), Carles Puyol (knee), Gerard Pique (groin), Jordi Alba (hamstring) and Neymar (foot) all unavailable.

Fri 9 May, 2014
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