Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona will look to take another step toward regaining the La Liga title when it welcomes Mallorca to Camp Nou on Saturday, but it will have to do so without its star player and talisman in Lionel Messi.
Messi was yanked at halftime of Barcelona's midweek Champions League tie with PSG due to a slight hamstring injury. It has been reported that he is likely to return to action for the return leg of the quarterfinal, but he will miss this weekend's league tilt as a precaution.
The four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner made history last weekend by becoming the first player to score against every other side in the Spanish top flight in successive matches. His astounding total of 42 league goals has led the Catalans to 75 points through 29 matches, but defender Dani Alves views Messi's absence this weekend as an opportunity for Barcelona to prove that the team is not overly reliant on the Argentine.
"The fact that we don't have him is an incentive to prove to everyone that we have enough quality to compete without him and show that we can do it just as well as when he's here," said the Brazilian.
While Messi's injury appears to be minor, the Catalans have been dealt a more serious blow with the news that Javier Mascherano will miss approximately six weeks with a knee injury suffered at the Parc des Princes.
With Carles Puyol and Adriano also sidelined through injury and Eric Abidal still a ways away from regaining full match fitness, Barcelona's defensive unit appears to be markedly depleted.
But the club has made a habit of getting by with makeshift backlines in recent years. It has not been uncommon for central midfielders like Mascherano to slot into defense, and it would not be surprising to see Sergio Busquets fill the void this weekend. The Barcelona defense does not need to be air-tight against Mallorca; it just needs to be strong enough to allow the club's sublime offense to outweigh any potential defensive frailties.
Pair Barcelona's average of 3.1 goals scored per match with Mallorca's recent struggles (the club comes into the weekend having lost its last two La Liga contests) and all signs point to another victory for the Catalans.
Vying for second place in Spain's top flight are a pair of clubs from Madrid. Real Madrid comes into the weekend occupying the runner-up position with 62 points on the season, one point better than Atletico Madrid. The Merengues can secure the second-place spot for another week with a victory over Levante on Saturday, but Atletico will hope to match Real's result when it heads to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez to take on Getafe on Sunday.
Malaga once looked likely to claim fourth place in La Liga with relative ease, but a poor run of form has seen the club drop to fifth place in favor of Real Sociedad. Malaga, after playing to a scoreless draw with Borussia Dortmund in Champions League play on Wednesday, will travel to the Anoeta to face La Real on Saturday in a match that will have major implications on the race for the Champions League qualification berth.
Saturday's final La Liga contest is a relegation "six-pointer" that pits last- place Deportivo against fourth-from-bottom Real Zaragoza. The two sides will meet at the Riazor.
On Sunday, Celta Vigo welcomes Rayo Vallecano to the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos, Valencia hosts Valladolid at the Mestalla and Espanyol heads to El Sadar to take on Osasuna.
Monday's lone match sees Sevilla host Athletic Bilbao at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and Friday's lone contest saw Real Betis cruise to a 5-1 defeat of Granada.