Champions Barcelona are aiming for a first win in four league games, at strugglers Osasuna on Saturday, after thrashing Borussia Moenchengladbach 4-0 in the Champions League in midweek.
Consecutive draws with Malaga, Real Sociedad and Real Madrid leave Barca six points behind Zinedine Zidane’s La Liga table toppers but Saturday’s early game gives them a chance to put pressure on their rivals, who host Deportivo La Coruna later on Saturday.
Against Deportivo, Real can set a club record of 35 games unbeaten but, after throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, they need to address a recurring theme of losing focus.
Real will fly out to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup after playing Deportivo, meaning Barca will play one more game than their rivals before the winter break. If Barca beat Osasuna they will have the chance to cut the gap to three points next week.
Tuesday’s resounding win over Moenchengladbach had no real significance as Barca had already qualified for the last 16 as group winners, but it allowed them to brush aside stinging criticism about their faltering displays.
With Andres Iniesta making his first start since injuring his knee in October, Barca looked a different side from that which stuttered without him over the past six weeks, dominating midfield and pulling the Germans apart with ease.
Iniesta is set to make his first league start since Oct. 22 and Barca will be grateful to call upon their captain’s ability to control games in one of the most notoriously difficult away trips in Spain even though Osasuna are currently bottom.
The Navarrans held Barca to a goalless draw the last time they played at their El Sadar stadium and beat them 3-2 in 2012 when the Catalans were coached by Pep Guardiola.
Osasuna striker Oriol Riera, formerly of Barca’s reserve team, promised his struggling side would ensure the champions did not get an easy ride.
“We need to make it as difficult for them as possible and even if they leave here with three points we want to ensure they were made to struggle, that they had problems and that they saw that at home we turn it up a notch, we are aggressive and intense,” Riera told a news conference.
“Barca are favourites at every ground they go to but if they think it’s going to be easy because of the position we’re in they are wrong. We’re going to play with our fists clenched.”