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Barcelona, Madrid face tough away games as Spanish title race nears finish

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BARCELONA, Spain — Having booked their spots in the Champions League semifinals, Barcelona and Real Madrid now face tough away fixtures in the Spanish league this weekend with just two points separating the title rivals as the season enters its final stretch.

After its 5-1 aggregate victory over Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona will aim to protect its slim advantage over Madrid when it crosses the city to play a derby at Espanyol on Saturday.

Madrid had a much harder time eliminating Atletico Madrid with a 1-0 victory thanks to Javier Hernandez's late goal. Carlo Ancelotti's team travels to the northwestern coast to face a feisty Celta Vigo side that gave Barcelona fits in a 1-0 loss early this month.

Here are some things to know about the 33rd round of the Spanish league:


WORTH THE TROUBLE

Neymar's contract has been a legal nightmare for Barcelona with the club mired in an alleged case of tax fraud, but the Brazil striker is living up to the hype as one of football's next stars.

Neymar netted two goals against PSG on Tuesday to take his season tally to 30, leaving him second in the team behind Lionel Messi's 46.

Luis Suarez has also come into his own with 19 goals.

The attacking trio has Barcelona in position to win three titles, with Luis Enrique's team also in the Copa del Rey final.

"We are alive and in good shape in three competitions," Neymar said. "I'm very happy with my performance this season, but above all I'm happy with the work of all the team."


PHOTO: Barcelona's Neymar hugs teammate Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, after scoring his second goal during the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Barcelona's Neymar hugs teammate Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, after scoring his second goal during the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

DICEY DERBY

With its place in the first division for next season secure and its cup campaign over, Espanyol's fans see the chance to trip Barcelona up as its biggest game left this season.

Tenth-place Espanyol will be missing Victor Sanchez, one of coach Sergio Gonzalez's most used players, as the former Barcelona midfielder serves a one-game suspension.

But Espanyol is unbeaten in six rounds and will be able to count on forward Sergio Garcia, one of the best in the league at creating goals with little space and even less help.

Striker Felipe Caicedo is its other main threat with three goals this month.

"We believe we can fight and play a great game," Caicedo said. "We are on a good run and we want to make the most of playing at home where our fans will support us from the very start. It's a great opportunity to show that we are strong at our stadium."


FITNESS TEST

Madrid persevered to finally beat Atletico for the first time in eight meetings on Wednesday.

Now the fitness of the undermanned European champions will be put to the test at a sold-out Balaidos Stadium.

Madrid lost Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric to injury before the Atletico match, and the depleted squad will have to recover its form quickly if it hopes to hold in check a talented Celta side that likes to attack with speed.

Led by forwards Manuel "Nolito" Agudo and Fabian Orellana, Celta has only three losses in its last 12 matches. Nineteen-year-old striker Santi Mina has also emerged as a threat after scoring four goals in a 6-1 rout of Rayo Vallecano two rounds ago.

Madrid, as always, will have Cristiano Ronaldo to provide its scoring punch. The Ballon d'Or holder tops the league with 39 goals this campaign.

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