BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Back on track in Europe, Barcelona will return to chasing history in the Spanish league with Real Madrid's point record still in reach.
Barcelona is well on its way to dethroning Madrid for the league title with a 13-point lead with 11 games to go, but the Catalan club will need a near perfect run-in to surpass Madrid's milestone of 100 points from last season.
Barcelona enters Sunday's home game against Rayo Vallecano with 71 points, meaning it must earn 29 of 33 to match Madrid's feat from last season. After a bad run of results including two losses to Madrid, Lionel Messi helped Barcelona by scoring twice in an emphatic 4-0 win over AC Milan on Tuesday to become the first team to overturn a 2-0 away loss from the first leg in the Champions League.
"It was one of the best games I have ever played," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "It was the game that we all needed." Madrid hosts an improving Mallorca on Saturday clinging to a one-point lead over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid, which visits Osasuna on Sunday.
Madrid ended Barcelona's three-year reign of the domestic league last season, and by collecting the most points ever. Barcelona, already eliminated by Madrid from the Copa del Rey semifinals, now has the added motivation to finish out the season in record-breaking fashion.
For Rayo to have a chance it will have to find a way to stop Messi. The Argentina forward leads the league with 40 goals and is on a record streak of scoring in 17 straight league matches, shattering the previous mark of 10.
Rayo has been the surprise of the league this season. Despite losing forwards Miguel "Michu" Perez (Swansea) and Diego Costa (Atletico), the Madrid team has surpassed all expectations and its attractive possession-based playing style has it in eighth place, only two points out of the Europa League positions.
Barcelona will be missing midfielder Xavi Hernandez after he aggravated a leg injury against Milan, while Rayo will be without striker Leo Baptistao, midfielder Javi Fuego and defender Jose Casado. "Playing against Barcelona on its pitch is always difficult, regardless of its recent results," Rayo midfielder and former Barcelona youth player Roberto Trashorras said. "The win in the Champions League gives them a boost, and then you also have their numbers from this campaign. We are playing one the best teams in the world, but our intention is to look to win without any sense of inferiority."
Fourth-place Malaga hosts Espanyol on Sunday level on points with high-flying Real Sociedad, which hosts Valladolid the day before with only one loss in the last 17 rounds. Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga have all advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals, giving Spain the most teams in the final eight of any country.
All three teams will surely have one eye on Friday's draw, when they possibly could be paired up for the next knockout round to start the first week in April. Real Betis visits Valencia on Sunday with both teams in contention for a top-six finish that will earn a place in European competitions next season, with the top four going to the Champions League and the next two to the Europa League.
Friday features a meeting of the league's two basement dwellers as last-place Deportivo La Coruna welcomes Celta Vigo. While Celta is three points from safety, not winning would likely finish off any hopes for Deportivo at nine points from salvation.
Also on Saturday, Athletic Bilbao is at Getafe in search of a third straight win. Sevilla hosts struggling Real Zaragoza on Sunday, and Levante travels to Granada Monday.