Real Madrid will try and unnerve leaders
Barcelona by notching up a fifth successive league win when they host
Villarreal on Saturday (kickoff 2000 GMT).
With Barcelona not playing at Malaga until Sunday, Real hope that a win
at the Bernabeu -- which would bring them to within three points of
Barca -- will be enough to unsettle their arch-rivals.
The Catalans enjoyed an 11-point lead at the top of the table at the end
of last month, but a draw against Real Betis and defeat away to Real
have narrowed that advantage to six points with six games left.
"There are enough games left for us to win the title," said Real's
director of football Arrigo Sacchi.
"Against Betis and us, I saw Barca under pressure and they lacked the
speed, the power and the concentration they showed before...Winning the
title isn't an impossibility for us."
The theory sounds good, but the practice may turn out to be rather
different as Real found out last week when Barcelona showed no sign of
wilting under the pressure with an impressive 2-0 win at home to Getafe.
What is more, Real have a tough task on their hands against Villarreal,
who are one of the form sides in Spain at the moment.
A six-game unbeaten run has left Manuel Pellegrini's side challenging
for a place in the Champions League and in confident mood ahead of
"If we are courageous and play the way we usually do it will be easier
to get the three points we need," goalkeeper Pepe Reina said. "We have
to go all out for the victory from the start."
Centre back Ivan Helguera has been laid low with stomach problems for
much of the week and midfielder Thomas Gravesen is still recovering from
an ankle injury so Real are set to field the same team that beat Levante
2-0 last weekend.
That means Luis Figo is likely to remain on the bench for the third game
in succession in order to make room for England striker Michael Owen.
Villarreal will be without midfielders Sebastian Battaglia and Marcos
Other matches being played this weekend (kickoff times 1500 GMT unless
stated; league positions in brackets):
OSASUNA (15) v ATLETICO (9) 1800
Osasuna followed up their first two league wins of the year with a 1-0
victory over Atletico in the Cup. Another win would almost certainly end
their relegation worries.
After taking just one point from their last two outings Atletico run the
risk of missing out on a European place. - - - -
ATHLETIC BILBAO (8) v SEVILLA (3) 1900
Sevilla can ill afford any further slip-ups if they want to earn a place
in the Champions League but they face a tricky task against Bilbao who
have only lost twice this season at San Mames. - - - -
DEPORTIVO CORUNA (10) v RACING SANTANDER (17)
Racing, who were unlucky to lose to Athletic Bilbao last time out, need
a few more points to guarantee their survival.
Deportivo's inconsistent season continued with a 1-0 defeat at Real
Sociedad last week and their hopes of securing a European place are
fading fast. - - - -
ESPANYOL (6) v REAL ZARAGOZA (11)
An intriguing contest between two well-drilled outfits. Zaragoza
trounced basement side Numancia 4-1 last week to take their unbeaten run
to eight games, while Espanyol have only lost twice at home this season.
- - - -
GETAFE (13) v LEVANTE (16)
Despite respective defeats against Barcelona and Real Madrid last week,
both teams are almost certainly assured of a second season in the top
flight. - - - -
MALAGA (14) v BARCELONA (1) 1700
Barca will be anxious to erase the memory of their 5-1 thrashing at the
hands of Malaga last season and at the same time keep themselves on
course for a first league title in six years.
Defender Carles Puyol returns from suspension and left back Silvinho
should be available but the versatile Rafael Marquez is banned.
Club doctors have yet to make a decision as to whether leading scorer
Samuel Eto'o has recovered sufficiently from his knee problems. - - - -
NUMANCIA (20) v REAL MALLORCA (18)
A do-or-die contest for two teams who are on the brink of dropping out
of the top flight. Numancia have lost four games in a row and even a win
will do little to stop them being relegated. The outlook is better for
Mallorca, who drew 0-0 with Valencia last time out. - - - -
REAL BETIS (5) v REAL SOCIEDAD (12)
Leading scorer Ricardo Oliveira is suspended for Betis as they try to
end their run of three draws. Sociedad beat Deportivo 1-0 last week but
a European place is beyond reach. - - - -
VALENCIA (7) v ALBACETE (19)
Striker Marco Di Vaio is back in training with the Valencia squad after
being excluded for indiscipline and last season's champions may need to
call on the Italian if they are to notch up a win after three
consecutive draws. Opponents Albacete are staring relegation in the face
after six straight defeats.