The Real Madrid leader will be looking to bounce back from the El Clasico humiliation as he travels to Celta Vigo on Saturday.
A trip to Celta might once have been seen as a chance to rest and reset, but the Clasico capitulation has raised the stakes ahead of next week’s Champions League first leg against Chelsea.
Madrid are nine points clear at the top of La Liga, which should still be more than enough to prevent a resurgent Barca and Sevilla from winning the Spanish title.
But Barcelona’s 4-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu before the international break left the door slightly ajar, with Barca hoping their blowout win could cause an unexpected meltdown for their rivals.
“If there is the slightest option to take advantage of it, we will go for it,” said Sergio Busquets.
Madrid will erase doubts by winning at Balaidos while another slip would create a sense of crisis, especially if Barcelona increase the pressure further by winning a tough home game against Sevilla on Sunday night.
Carlo Ancelotti has isolated himself at home this week after testing positive for COVID-19 and it remains to be seen if the Italian will be able to take his place on the bench this weekend.
Ancelotti’s symptoms are mild and Madrid are confident he will return in time for the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
There are also question marks surrounding the fitness of Karim Benzema, whose absence proved extremely important against Barcelona, not least because Ancelotti took its toll in his attempts to replace him. If Benzema isn’t deemed ready, Celta’s chances will be significantly improved.
Real Madrid’s performance on Saturday will also inform preparations for their meeting with Chelsea on Wednesday where they will need to be most assured against reigning European champion Thomas Tuchel.
Ancelotti might have framed the visit to Vigo as a chance to bring back key players after long outings for their national sides, but there is now less room for error, at least psychologically, after Barca’s defeat.
“I’m really sorry for the loss, I’m very sad but I keep it in perspective, that is to say we have a nine point lead in the league and we are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. “, Ancelotti said. .
Charging in Barcelona
It’s also incumbent on Barcelona to back up their Clasico demolition by beating Sevilla if they are to retain any hope of making Madrid uncomfortable.
It’s more likely that victory at Camp Nou will accelerate Barca’s pursuit of second place, with Sevilla just three points ahead, having played one game more.
Xavi Hernandez’s side are the in-form team in the division, unbeaten in the league since December and with five wins in their last five matches.
Concerns over Champions League qualification are a distant memory and it’s not inconceivable that the Catalans will complete both routes to Europe’s premier tournament, finishing in the top four and then winning the Europa League, where they are surely now the favorites.
Barcelona would top the table if La Liga starts in January while Sevilla would be fifth, their own hopes of a title challenge quashed by a string of draws in recent weeks.
Seven draws in their last nine games saw Real Madrid exit and while a top-four spot should be assured for Sevilla, Barca and Atletico Madrid could still finish second and third if the downturn continues. .
Atletico, now four points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis, play at home to Alaves on Saturday, hoping to continue their own revival ahead of Tuesday’s first leg against Manchester City. Betis host Osasuna on Sunday.