As Barcelona get ready to head to Madrid to take on Rayo Vallecano, they have to be feeling pretty good about things. They come into the day with a five-point lead that, with a win, will stretch to eight. With that kind of advantage and 11 more matches to go after Thursday, they'll be looking to have some fun while they go about their business and try to see just how wide a lead they can open up while they're at it.
Of course, while Rayo are sat low in the table, they also haven't lost a match in the league in almost two months. That's not to say that Barcelona will be joining in with the parade of upsets and eye-opening results this week, but they'll certainly be aware that they can't take a win for granted. That means we should see a motivated and focused Barcelona team out there, and whenever we see a motivated and focused Barcelona squaring off against a small team things have a tendency to get a little one-sided in a hurry. Will that happen in this match? We'll have to wait and see.
Key player -- Neymar (Barcelona)
Neymar is always a unique matchup problem for any team he faces, and even though he hasn't quite been as lethal as he has the potential to be of late he's still been a force to be reckoned with. With one or both of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi likely to get rested for this match, Neymar has the chance to step up and be the centerpiece again -- and that's bad news for Rayo, because when Neymar has those chances he takes them 99 times out of 100.
Key matchup -- Roberto Trashorras (Rayo Vallecano) vs. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Especially with all the injuries to their attack, Rayo don't seem to have many potential options to try to catch Barcelona out. Anything they do manage going forward is going to lean on Trashorras to get done, and you shouldn't count the wily veteran out from being able to get something going. Busquets will have to focus on him if Barcelona want to assure themselves that Rayo will be kept at bay, and if he fails in that task Rayo might just have a chance at getting something out of this game.
Rayo Vallecano injuries and suspensions
Out: Pablo, Miku, Tono, Patrick Ebert, Razvan Rat ... In doubt: Jozabed
Barcelona injuries and suspensions
Out: Dani Alves, Rafinha
Match Date/Time: Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. local
Venue: Estadio de Vallecas Teresa Rivero, Madrid, Spain
TV: beIN Sports (U.S. - English), beIN Sports en Español (U.S. - Spanish), Canal+ Liga/HD (Spain), Sky Sports 5/HD (U.K.)
Online: beIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.), Sky Go (U.K.)