at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid – Lionel Messi will be the big absentee on Saturday, when Spanish leaders Barcelona take on lowly Mallorca.
The World Player of the Year suffered a hamstring injury in his right leg in Tuesday's 2-2 Champions League draw at Paris Saint-Germain, and will miss the Mallorca game in an attempt to be fit for the April 10 return leg against PSG.
As a result, Messi's record-breaking run of scoring in 19 consecutive Ligas matches has come to an end.
An online poll taken by Sport showed on Thursday that no less than 77 per cent of readers believed the little Argentine will play in the second leg against PSG.
In the meantime, coach Tito Vilanova will have to patch together a makeshift team to face Mallorca. His other injury absentees are Carles Puyol, Adriano, Javier Mascherano and Pedro. In addition, Xavi will almost certainly take a rest before the visit of PSG.
This will open the door for youngsters Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Thiago, as well as veteran Eric Abidal, finally fit again after a year out following a liver transplant.
“We are really being hit by injuries this season,” defender Gerard Pique said. “But we have a squad big enough and good enough to overcome these.”
Barca are 13 points ahead of Real Madrid atop La Liga. Mallorca, in contrast, are second from bottom and in big trouble.
“We cannot give anything away now, given the situation we are in. We just have to carry on fighting,” Mallorca's Israeli keeper Dudu Aouate said.
“We know just how difficult things will be on Saturday, but we should see the game as an opportunity rather than a problem.”
Also on Saturday, Real host midtable Levante while Malaga – like Real and Barca in the Champions League quarter-finals – visit surprise package Real Sociedad.
Sociedad, one of the Liga teams with the lowest budget, are one point above fifth-placed Malaga, and really enjoying life at the moment.
“This is a great situation for us,” midfielder David Zuruzuta said. “Nobody expected great things from us this season, but look how things have turned out.”
He added that “we will need to continue working really hard” in order to get into Europe next season.
Saturday's other game will be a relegation battle between bottom team Deportivo La Coruna and fourth bottom Zaragoza.
Friday sees an Andalusian derby between Granada, who are fifth from bottom, and seventh-placed Betis.
Meanwhile, there will be a Madrid derby Sunday between Getafe and third-ranked Atletico. The day's other matches are Celta v Rayo Vallecano, Osasuna v Espanyol and Valencia v Valladolid.
Monday will see a midtable clash between fallen giants Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao. – Sapa-dpa