MADRID — Real Madrid has done its best to delay the inevitable, but Barcelona has another chance to finally clinch the Spanish league title this weekend.
A win by Barcelona at Atletico Madrid on Sunday will seal the Catalan club's 22nd league title and fourth in five years - although the team may already be champions by then if Madrid drops points at Espanyol on Saturday.
Madrid's 6-2 rout of Malaga on Wednesday kept Barcelona from dethroning it as league champions, but even that commanding victory at the Santiago Bernabeu was drowned out by the jeers coach Jose Mourinho received from the home fans after his discrepancies with his players and club intensified in recent days.
"We are only thinking about winning the league on Sunday," said Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets. "But if had won it yesterday or if we win it on Saturday it will be just as important.
"Our fans deserve it. All of Barcelona's fans are very proud of this title and are wanting us to win more."
More titles, however, will have to wait until next season.
Barcelona was brushed aside by a humbling 7-0 aggregate score by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, while Madrid won their Copa del Rey semifinal and will play Atletico in the May 17 final.
Barcelona's first chance at clinching the league rests with crosstown rival Espanyol getting a win or a draw against Madrid at Cornella-El Prat stadium.
In 11th place after back-to-back losses, Espanyol needs a victory to remain in the hunt for a Europa League spot come next season. It has only lost one home game— its last one— in nine under replacement coach Javier Aguirre.
Mourinho appears close to leaving the Spanish capital and heading back to England. His name was largely booed during pre-game introductions on Wednesday a day after he publicly derided captain Iker Casillas and Pepe, who had said that Mourinho had lacked respect for the Spain goalkeeper.
Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso made a call for team unity after its midweek win.
"We have to all be pulling in the same direction," Alonso said. "We have a Copa del Rey final to play, the last title in play. We can't let anything distract us. We have a common objective and at the end of the season there will time to evaluate the campaign and make decisions."
If Madrid wins at Espanyol, then Barcelona will have to beat an Atletico side that locked up a third-place finish and a direct classification to next season's Champions League— fourth place earns the right to playoff for the Champions League— by beating Celta Vigo on Wednesday.
The lingering doubt for Barcelona is if Lionel Messi will finally return to its starting lineup for the first time in league play since injuring his right hamstring on April 2.
Messi leads the league with 46 goals and can match or break his own record of 50 from last season.
With Barcelona, Madrid, and Atletico already set to play in the Champions League next season, the fourth and final spot is still up for grabs.
Real Sociedad is currently holding on to fourth place, two points above Valencia after the Basque side's 15-game unbeaten run was ended last round by Getafe.
Sociedad hosts Granada on Monday after Valencia visits Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
"We know Valencia is going to be pushing us to the end and that each of the last four games will be a final in itself," said Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez. "But this team has to capacity to resist."
Valencia is winless in its last five away games and is facing a Rayo side that has sputtered of late and needs the three points if it hopes to finish an excellent campaign with a Europa League berth.
With only four rounds left, the fight to avoid relegation is also tight with only six points between 15th-ranked Granada and last-place Mallorca.
Real Zaragoza looks for a third consecutive win on Friday at struggling Levante that would go a long way to assuring it stays up next season.
Mallorca visits Athletic Bilbao on Saturday in a must-win match four points from safety, while relegation-threatened Deportivo La Coruna travels to Valladolid.
Osasuna is also in danger after only one victory in its last nine games and plays at Getafe also on Saturday. Getafe, meanwhile, is still in the mix for a Europa League spot. Second-to-last-place Celta Vigo visits Real Betis on Sunday also.