La Liga Review Previews all of this weekends top flight Spanish football action: including Form Guides and Team News...
Saturday 5 April 2008 (Spanish Time)
20:00 Osasuna - Recreativo
22:00 Mallorca - Real Madrid
Sunday 6 April
17:00 At. Madrid - Almería
17:00 Levante - Valladolid
17:00 Zaragoza - Betis
17:00 Athletic - Espanyol
17:00 Racing - Deportivo
17:00 Murcia - Valencia
19:00 Sevilla - Villarreal
21:00 Barcelona - Getafe
CA Osasuna - Recreativo de Huelva
Osasuna are just about 5 points away from Primera Liga safety and a win over relegation candidates Recreativo will move them reassuring close to within two points of the magical 42. They go in to this weekends fixture on the back of a win over Getafe and coach Cuco Ziganda will fancy taking all three points again this Saturday.
Survival has just about been the extent of Osasuna's ambitions since the season began, and after having recently remembered that they are more suited to playing like Blackburn rather than Barcelona, the Pamplona club have gradually fought - and kicked - their way towards a guaranteed spot in next seasons top flight after picking up14 points from their last eight matches.
The bizarrely named Kingdom of Navarre stadium can be an intimidating place to visit when full, and ticket prices have been dropped to just 10 euros to ensure that the home fans turn out in force.
18th placed Recreativo did look like they might pull themselves out of the bottom three last weekend,until a late Athletic Bilbao equaliser saw them draw 1-1 at home. A win this weekend would provisionally move them out of the relegation zone and above Zaragoza, who play on Sunday.
Recreativo beat Osasuna 1-0 in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Form Guide: Osasuna W4 D2 L4 / Recreativo W3 D2 L5
Carlos Vela is suspended for Osasuna, while Ludovic Delporte has been ruled out until the end of the season.
Javad Nekounam and Xavier Margairaz also look set to miss out again, but Josetxo Romero and Javi Garcia return from suspension.
The good news for Recreativo is that Florent Sinama-Pongolle has won an appeal against his ban and will be able to play. Quique Alvarez and Martin Caceres are almost certainly both sidelined for Sunday's game, while Igao Bouzon is suspended.
Recre squad: Sorrentino, Barbosa, Edu Moya, Martín Cáceres, Gerard, Camuñas, Ersen Martin, Jesús Vázquez, Carlos Martíns, Sinama Pongolle, Zahinos, Quique Alvarez, Barber, Marco Ruben, Varela, Poli ,Aitor, Beto & Javi Guerrero.
RCD Mallorca - Real Madrid
Mallorca will take comfort from the fact that they have beaten Real Madrid once already this season, in the Copa del Rey, and their outstanding home record on the island. However, the Barralets will be troubled by the fact that Saturday's visitors, Real Madrid, have won four out of their last five fixtures at the San Moix.
Mallorca have not lost at home since losing 2-0 to Barcelona in January and since being eliminated from the cup they have almost fulfilled their ambitions and secured their league place for next season, sitting comfortably in the top half of the table. Their emphatic win at Valencia last week was preceded by a win over Depor, meaning that Mallorca go in to this game in decent form.
This is a tough fixture for an inconsistent Real Madrid side that has the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to nine points, with their nearest rivals, Villarreal, playing 24 hours later. Since the 2-1 defeat to Mallorca in the Copa del Rey on January 10th, Real Madrid have lost eight of their subsequent 15 matches and were also dumped out of the Champions League by Roma . It is fair to say that Madrid remain top of La Liga courtesy of their rivals inability to capitalise on Los Merengues recent run of form.
Both Schuster, and his players, have emphasised in the last few days that they must win this fixture in order to wrap up the league as soon as possible and that they cannot afford tp throw away any more points. As Pepe, who returns to the side, said today "We must beat Mallorca if we want to be league champions."
Real Madrid were 4-3 winners at the Bernabeu in the return fixture earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Mallorca W4 D5 L1 / Real Madrid W5 DO L5
Real Madrid will be without Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Christoph Metzelder, but Pepe is back in training and has been returned to the squad.
Confirmed squad: Iker Casillas, Codina, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro, Heinze, Miguel Torres, Marcelo, Gago, Diarra,Guti, Baptista, Sneijder, Robben, Robinho, Higuaín, Saviola y Raúl.
Mallorca have few injury concerns reported at present and could line up with he same side that Valencia 3-0 last weekend.
Club Atlético de Madrid - UD Almería
Fourth placed Atletico Madrid will be hoping to bounce back from their 3-0 hammering at Villarreal last week by beating Almería at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
Unai Emery's side travel to Madrid with one of the best defensive records in La Liga and will make life difficult for Aguirre and Co. Atletico must win this game if they are to cling on to that fiercely contested Champions League spot and avoid fifth placed Racing overtaking them.
In terms of form, both sides ahve picked up just 12 points from a possible 30 in their last ten games, but with Almeria already safe on 42 points, it is likely that the home side will be the hungrier of the two.
Atleti's preparations for this match have taken a back seat, in terms of media coverage, to the antic's of Jose Antonio Reyes' and his decision to call his coach an 'Hijo de Puta' after not being selected to face Sevilla a fortnight ago. Needless to say, the former Arsenal player probably won't be starting this weekend either.
The match finished 0-0 when these two sides last met earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Atletico Madrid W4 D1 L5 / Almeria W4 D4 L2
Team News: to follow...
Levante UD - Real Valladolid
Levante, it is fairly safe to say, are relegated. Mathematically there is still a chance but they would need to win all of their remaining fixtures and, after having lost 21 times already this season, that is highly unlikely. However, they have a habit of making life difficult for their opponents and, perhaps, have been very unlucky on a number of occasions. In terms of recent form their is little to separate them from their visitors on Sunday.
Sixteenth placed Valladolid recored a valuable win against fellow strugglers Zaragoza last weekend and a repeat on Sunday would leave them four points short of safety with seven games remaining. Defeat, however, could leave last season's division 2 Champions floundering in the bottom three.
Valladolid were 1-0 the last time these two sides met earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Levante W3 D1 L6 / Valladolid W2 D2 L6
Real Zaragoza - Real Betis Balompié
Zaragoza started the season tipped for a Champions League placing, now , 30 games and several managers later, they find themselves just one place above the drop zone courtesy of their superior goal difference over Recreativo.
The reasons behind Zaragoza's decline are numerous, but chief amongst them is their dreadful away from that has seen them pick up just six points on the road all season. Thankfully their home form is much better and they have won 11 times at the Romareda already this term. The fact that they are at home, coupled with the fact that they have won this fixture three times in succession, makes them favourites against Betis on Sunday.
Betis narrowly avoided relegation last season, but the dramatic comeback win over Barça last week gives them 38 points, just 4 short of safety, with seven games remaining.
Betis won 2-1 the last time these two sides met earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Zaragoza W2 D2 L6 / Real Betis W5 D2 L3
Team News: to follow...
Athletic Club Bilbao - RCD Espanyol
Espanyol are to keep their dreams of European qualification alive, then they must bounce back from their 3-0 hammering at the hands of Racing Santander last weekend, with a win in Bilbao. That is not going to be easy for a side that has lost seven of its last ten La Liga fixtures: a run of form that has cost them a potential Champions League placing for next season and leaves them in seventh place on 45 points.
This fixture gives an idea of just how congested the Spanish league is beneath the top four sides, as a win for Bilbao, who have only just secured the 42 points necessary to guarantee survival, would move to within three points of Espanyol with a win on Sunday.
Espanyol were 2-1 winners when these two sides met at Montjuic earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Athletic Bilbao W4 D3 L3 / Espanyol W3 DO L7
Real Racing Club - Deportivo La Coruña
There is very little to separate these two sides in terms of recent form, yet Racing find themselves 10 league places above Deportivo in La Liga. This has been an astonishing season for Marcelino's Santander outfit and El Sardinero has become something of a fortress for them, losing only twice and winning none times at home already this season.
However, since the visiting side switched to a 5-3-2 formation, under Miguel Lotina, they have suddenly made themselves very hard to score against, and even harder to beat, in recent weeks. With Racing having conceded just eight times at home all season, this is going to be a tight encounter - but one, that the home side, in pursuit of a UEFA cup spot, should just about edge.
Racing were 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture.
Form Guide: Racing W5 D3 L2 / Deportivo W6 D2 L2
Real Murcia - Valencia CF
Javier Clemente's Murcia are, like Levante, pretty much assured of relegation, but the coach will not allow his charges to throw in the towel. If they are to go down, then taking the scalp of one of Spain's biggest club's will make a highly prized souvenir. Valencia, quite frankly, are there for the taking after going down
3-0 at home to Mallorca last weekend and the Mestalla club have done what they always do when things aren't going to plan: they start fighting amongst themselves.
In the last 24 hours Ivan Helguera has had a very public pop at Koeman and accused him of showing a lack of respect toward the players for crtitcising them openly after last weeks defeat. Koeman has responded by labelling the home fans a 'bunch of fundamentalists'. That's Valencia.
Valencia are not yet clear of the threat of relegation, but one more win should see them safe. However, they just might have to wait until next week for that to happen.
Valencia were 3-0 winners when these two side met earlier in the season
Form Guide: Murcia W1 D1 L8 / Valencia W3 D3 L4
Team News: David Villa misses out for Valencia, through injury, with Morientes likely to get a rare start in his place. Zigic, Albiol and Marchena all return to the Valencia squad.
Sevilla FC - Villarreal CF
This is probably the match of the weekend, featuring two sides who have absolutely everything to play for.
Villarreal, who have never won a major trophy in their history, moved above Barcelona into second place last weekend and now sit just six points behind league leaders Real Madrid after winning their last four matches. That winning run has seen Villarreal defeat Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Zaragoza and if Villarreal are to mount a realistic challenge for the title, they must beat Sevilla.
As Villarreal defender Javi Venta said yesterday "We are very aware that the fight for the league is very difficult, we practically cannot lose any match and hope that Madrid do. Our aim is to be within one win of Real Madrid, if we do not do this then I think it is practically impossible.
Sevilla are in fifth place following last weeks 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, five points off of a Champions League spot and with just seven games remaining they cannot afford any slip ups either.
Villarreal were 3-2 winners the last time these two sides met in La Liga.
Form Guide: Sevilla W 6 D1 L3 / Villarreal W6 D3 L1
FC Barcelona - Getafe CF
Whatever happens on Sunday, the headlines are already written, and the burning question remains the same. Will Ronaldinho ever play for FC Barcelona again? The Brazilian has been ruled out for at least six weeks with a thigh injury and is unlikely to play for the club between now and the end of the season.
Last weekend's shock 3-2 defeat to Real Betis pushed Barcelona down in to third place in La Liga, one point behind Villarreal in second and 7 points behind leaders Real Madrid. The result sent shockwaves throughout Catalunya and the result will be looked back upon as the moment when Rijkaard's credit with the Barcelona fans and media finally ran out.
The focus for Barcelona, now, is upon the Champions League, but the club must continue fighting in the league to secure second place in La Liga that will mean the automatic qualification for next season's Champions League group stages. If Barcelona finish third then they will have to compete in a Champions League qualifying round in the summer that will upset their preseason preparations and force the cancellation of several lucrative marketing tours.
Getafe are the only other side in Spain still involved in European competition and they travel to the Camp Nou boosted by their fantastic 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich on Thursday evening.
There is little to seperate the two sides in terms of recent form, but Getafe rarely do well at the Camp Nou. However, the reaction of the Camp Nou crowd towards the team, Rijkaard and the board could make for an unsettling atmosphere that the visitors may be able to exploit.
Getafe were 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Form Guide: Barcelona W4 D3 L3 / Getafe W4 D3 L3
Ronaldinho makes the headline as he has been ruled out for at least a further six weeks through injury. Messi is back in Barcelona, but has not yet returned to training.
UEFA Cup hero Cosmin Contra is suspended for Getafe.
Barcelona Squad:Valdés, Pinto, Zambrotta, Thuram, Puyol, Marquez, Milito, Sylvinho, Abidal, Xavi, Edmilson, Toure, Iniesta, Gudjohnsen, Giovani, Bojan, Eto’o, Henry.