Five things to look out for in La Liga

Kieran CANNING
Barcelona's Lionel Messi (C) and teammates look dejected at the end of their UEFA Champions League match against Juventus, at the Juventus stadium in Turin, on April 11, 2017

Ahead of another Champions League salvage mission there is no room for error for Barcelona as they try to chase down Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Here, AFP Sports looks at five things to look out for in La Liga this weekend.

Barca begin life without Neymar

Barca's season unravelled quickly in the past week as they lost at Malaga to fall three points behind Madrid, who also have a game in hand, at the top of the table and were then thrashed 3-0 by Juventus in the Champions League.

In between Neymar was also slapped with a three-game ban following his first Barca red card last weekend and misses Real Sociedad's visit on Saturday, as well as a potential decisive clash with Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu next weekend.

Barca have to win to have any chance of keeping the title alive ahead next weekend's Clasico but have been let down by their lack of strength in depth this season.

Boss Luis Enrique therefore has a delicate balance to find between resting some of his star names ahead of another Champions League rescue mission in midweek and still having enough to see off a Sociedad side battling for a place in the Europa League.

Asensio's time to shine

In stark contrast to Barca's troubles, Real Madrid have been propped up throughout the campaign by the depth of their resources.

No more so than by Marco Asensio. The 21-year-old made a huge impact by setting up Cristiano Ronaldo's winner against Bayern Munich on Wednesday after replacing Gareth Bale for the final half hour.

With Bale set to sit out the trip to Gijon, Asensio will get his chance to make a case to start against Bayern on Tuesday.

Adams's 'arse-kicking' commences

Tony Adams made a surprise return to coaching this week as Granada boss due to his close ties with the club's Chinese ownership.

The eccentric former Arsenal captain didn't disappoint in his first press conference where he promised to "kick some players' arse" in an uphill battle to save Granada from relegation in the final seven games of the season.

Adams takes charge for the first time against Celta Vigo on Sunday with Granada seven points adrift of safety.

Basque battle royale for Europe

The fight to be top dogs in the Basque Country will almost certainly be rewarded with a place in Europe with Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Eibar separated by just two points between sixth and eighth.

With Sociedad at the Camp Nou, Athletic can move a step ahead when they host Las Palmas on Friday night before Eibar continue their remarkable charge at struggling Betis on Sunday.

The population of Eibar would fit twice into Betis' Benito Villamarin stadium, yet they are 19 points ahead of the Seville giants thanks to an already record points tally of 50 in the top flight.

Valencia on the rise

There is a rare sense of positivity around Valencia's fortunes at the minute after three consecutive wins for the first time in a year.

Chairwoman Layhoon Chan's resignation earlier in the week also pleased a large section of the fanbase unhappy with her role in a disastrous past couple of seasons on and off the pitch.

Sunday's visitors to the Mestalla should take note of what bad organisation from the top can do to even a historically big club.

Sevilla are in a state of flux after sporting director Monchi's departure and look set to lose coach Jorge Sampaoli to Argentina's advances at the end of the season too.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Athletic Bilbao v Las Palmas (1845)

Saturday

Deportivo la Coruna v Malaga (1100), Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid (1415), Atletico Madrid v Osasuna (1630), Barcelona v Real Sociedad (1845)

Sunday

Leganes v Espanyol (1000), Valencia v Sevilla (1415), Real Betis v Eibar (1630), Granada v Celta Vigo (1845)