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Barca look to secure top-four spot with win away at Real Betis

MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona can seal qualification for next season’s Champions League by beating Real Betis today as six of La Liga’s top seven go head-to-head in what could be a pivotal weekend in the race for the top four.

Barca, in second, are eight points clear of Betis, in fifth, and if they can extend that gap to 11 with three games left to play, their spot in the Champions League will be secure.

It would represent a significant achievement for the Catalans, despite a disappointing dip in recent weeks meaning the enthusiasm of a few weeks ago, when they thrashed Real Madrid 4-0, has fizzled out.

Xavi Hernandez took over with Barcelona sitting ninth in La Liga, with the very real threat of missing out on the top four hanging over the club, who have debts of more than a billion euros and desperately need the money from playing in Europe’s most lucrative club tournament.

“We have two objectives,” said Xavi last weekend.

“Qualify for the Champions League and then also to finish second.

“But the main thing is to qualify for the Champions League.”

A victory for Xavi’s side at the Benito Villamarin would also come as a boost to Atletico Madrid, who are only three points ahead of Betis, with the local derby at home to Real Madrid to come tomorrow.

Atletico have already said they will not give Real Madrid a guard of honour as champions, a subject that has dominated discussions in Spain in recent days but a gesture they consider to be “an attempt at mockery” that the club insisted has “the aim of humiliation”.

Atleti will hope Real Madrid’s sensational comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday in the Champions League, which required extra time and a heap of emotional and physical energy, might take its toll at the Wanda Metropolitano.

After already wrapping up the league title last weekend with four games to spare, the momentous victory over City means Carlo Ancelotti is expected to rotate against Atletico, with the likes of Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Vinicius Junior all due a rest.