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Malaga squares off with Barca at La Rosaleda

In what will be a prelude to the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, Malaga will host league-leading Barcelona at La Rosaleda in La Liga action on Sunday.

The two sides emerged victorious from their midweek Copa del Rey ties as Malaga topped Eibar and Barcelona cruised past Cordoba.

Sunday's league encounter will mark the first match of three between the two sides in a span of 10 days.

It is the first time that Malaga and Barcelona will meet this season, and Manuel Pellegrini's men will be looking for a better outcome than last season when the Catalans took both league encounters by 4-1 scores.

To make Malaga's task even tougher, Barcelona, which occupies top spot in the league with a remarkable 52 points out of possible 55, is likely to be quite fresh ahead of the tilt.

Lionel Messi, who claimed his fourth straight FIFA Ballon d'Or on Monday, did not partake in Barcelona's 5-0 rout of Cordoba on Thursday. Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Jordi Alba were rested as well, while Cesc Fabregas and Carles Puyol played just 45 minutes.

It appears as if Barcelona could be poised for a strong display at La Rosaleda, but Malaga will be out to pull a shock upset.

'Los Boquerones' have enjoyed a fine season thus far, despite being in a precarious financial position. Not only has the club made it to the Round of 16 in the Champions League, but it also enters the weekend in fourth place of Spain's top flight on 31 points.

Malaga can also look to its final match before the winter break for inspiration. The club hosted Real Madrid and earned a 3-2 victory, proving that it is capable of taking points off of a premier side in La Liga.

And with Malaga turning out a disappointing performance in a 1-0 loss to lowly Deportivo last time out, Sunday's match at La Rosaleda is likely to be a more closely-contested match than Barcelona is used to with the home side looking to bounce back into form.

Hopeful of keeping pace with Barcelona is Real Madrid, which will be without the suspended Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antonio Adan on Saturday, leaving the club with all to do for its trip to El Sadar against Osasuna.

Should Real Madrid drop points, Atletico Madrid, which comes into the weekend in second place, will hope distance itself from the title-holders on Sunday when it welcomes Real Zaragoza to the Vicente Calderon.

Rounding out Sunday's La Liga action, Real Betis hosts Levante at the Benito Villamarin and Real Sociedad welcomes Deportivo to the Anoeta.

On Saturday, Valladolid hosts Mallorca at the Jose Zorrilla, Espanyol welcomes Celta Vigo to the Estadi Cornella-El Prat and Sevilla heads to the Mestalla to take on Valencia.

And in Friday's lone La Liga contest, Rayo Vallecano secured a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao with a goal from Lass early in the second half before Piti converted a penalty kick to double the advantage for Rayo.

Mikel San Jose managed to pull a goal back for the home side in the 77th minute, but it wasn't enough to prevent a third successive defeat.