Real Madrid's faint
hopes of depriving Barcelona of a second consecutive league title will
be extinguished if they fail to beat their arch-rivals in Saturday's "clasico"
at the Nou Camp.
Real trail Barca by 11 points with just eight games to go and it appears
to be only a matter of time before the Catalans claim their 18th title.
"We have to be realistic," says Real keeper Iker Casillas. "Our aim is
to win at the Nou Camp so that we can try and pull clear of the other
teams that are fighting for second place.
"We have to win at all costs. If they win they will be taking a giant
step towards the title."
For Barca this is not the most crucial game in the next week -- that is
the return leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Benfica
Frank Rijkaard's side dominated the first leg in Lisbon but, despite a
hatful of chances, they had to settle for a 0-0 draw.
"The Benfica match is more important for us," Portugal midfielder Deco
told Marca on Thursday. "We don't have to beat Real to win the league
title, but we have to beat Benfica if we want to win the Champions
"There is no doubt, however, that we still want to win the match for our
pride and for the fans and we know that if we beat Real we will wrap up
the title in two or three weeks."
Barca, held to a goalless draw by basement side Malaga in their last
league match, head into Saturday's match with an important psychological
advantage given the humiliating 3-0 defeat they inflicted on Real at the
Bernabeu this season.
The Catalans gave Real a footballing lesson as a Ronaldinho double and a
superb opportunist strike from Samuel Eto'o earned one of their most
comprehensive victories on enemy territory.
Midfielder David Beckham, who has recovered from an ankle injury and
will be fit to play, admits Real are still smarting from that defeat.
"Our pride was hurt when they came to the Bernabeu and beat us the way
they did," he says. "So for us it's about pride, getting three points
and playing well.
"I think it is going to be impossible to catch them but weirder things
have happened in football."
Real's spirits were raised by a 4-0 win at home to Deportivo Coruna last
weekend. If coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro keeps faith with the team that
hammered the Galicians, club captain Raul will start on the bench for
only the second time in 30 games against the Catalans.
Barca will be without injured defenders Rafael Marquez and Edmilson, and
their dynamic Argentine forward Lionel Messi although skipper Carles
Puyol returns after a one-match ban.
In the weekend's other matches, third-placed Osasuna, who are just two
points behind Real, host Bernd Schuster's Getafe on Sunday in their bid
for a place in the Champions League.
Valencia, who are a further two points back in fourth spot, will be out
to end their disappointing run of form when they entertain
Quique Sanchez Flores's side have not managed a win in their last six
outings and leading striker David Villa has not found the net in seven.