- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - One team is fighting to protect its championship pedigree. The other is playing it cool with an eye on an even bigger prize.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are gearing up for the decisive final round of the Spanish league, when both face critical away matches that will decide the title.

Barcelona leads Madrid by one point and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, but the team led by Lionel Messi is also under more pressure to come through.

A win at Granada would give Barcelona back-to-back titles and an eighth league title in 12 years.

A loss, however, combined with a Madrid victory, would culminate a spectacular collapse for a Barcelona side that established a Spanish record with 39 games without a loss across all competitions midway through the season. That run was brought to an end by a 2-1 loss to Madrid at Camp Nou in early April, a result that rekindled Madrid’s title bid.

“We have to be strong mentally,” said Barcelona forward Luis Suarez, who leads the league with 37 goals, four more than Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. “We are playing in the best team in the world. We know that the pressure exists, but we only depend on ourselves.”

Madrid, meanwhile, needs both a win at Deportivo La Coruna and for Barcelona to drop points in order to snatch the trophy.

In the role of spoiler, Madrid is placing most of its hopes for a major piece of silverware in the subsequent Champions League final against Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Barcelona also has the Copa del Rey final still to play against Sevilla on May 22, but there is more at stake for the Catalan club after it bowed out of the Champions League quarterfinals against Atletico.

Losing a league title after leading the competition for 17 consecutive matches and enjoying a 12-point advantage over Real Madrid just a few weeks ago would be nothing less than a catastrophe.

Fortunately, for Barcelona, it stopped a bewildering slide of four winless matches just in time and has run off four consecutive victories by a combined score of 21-0 to remain in control of its own destiny.

“If at the beginning of the season we were told that we would have our fate in our own hands on the final day, we would have taken it without a doubt,” Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano said. “We have a great squad, with incredible people. We always have it clear in our minds that we are going out there as a team and we must continue working as a unit.”

Amid the tension of the buildup to the league finale, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique gave his players two days of rest this week. They returned to training on Thursday.

Madrid is riding high on an 11-match winning streak in the league that has propelled it back into a title hunt that looked over following its last loss to Atletico in February.

Madrid will also be aspiring to avenge the two league titles that Barcelona won by leapfrogging them in dramatic fashion after the Spanish capital’s biggest team lost season finales against Tenerife in 1992 and 1993.

The health of its star forwards will be Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane’s main concern for the trip to Deportivo in northwestern Spain.

Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have been nursing right-leg injuries, but they scored all three goals in a 3-2 win over Valencia last weekend that lifted Madrid ahead of Atletico and into second place. Gareth Bale missed that match with a leg injury of his own.

Otherwise, Zidane and his players know that no matter what happens on Saturday, the success of their season rests on the result of the European Cup final in Milan.

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